June 07, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Riding the crest of a seachange 

Council notches six months under its belt

It's taken just six months — six months to begin to restore Whistler's faith in its local government.

Of all the things that have been accomplished in its short term in office, says Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, that is her proudest achievement.

"It's being able to provide good government and, I think, I think, we've got the trust of the community back," she ventures. "And that is absolutely huge."

but has council gained the trust of the community?

Only time, and two-and-a-half more years in office, will tell.

In the last few months something indefinable has shifted, and the yawning chasm between the municipality and, well... everyone else, seems to be getting smaller.

Gone are the overwrought political struggles unfolding bi-weekly on the public stage. Gone, too, are the tension-filled question-and-answer sessions with irate community members challenging council and staff's handling of the asphalt plant. Gone is the perception, rightly or wrongly, that spending is rife at municipal hall in the midst of widespread hardship in the community. Gone is the perpetual criticism that council has "drunk the Kool-Aid," and is at the mercy of all-powerful staff, no longer representing the people.

In its place is a budding, tentative, trust.

Trust, however, can be a maddeningly difficult thing to hold on to; any politician can attest to that.

Wilhelm-Morden knows this only too well; she's seen it all before.

With four terms as a councillor under her belt, she has been a part of the delicate dance between council and staff, and council and the community, with four different mayors and four different municipal administrators.

She can't really remember her first term under Mayor Terry Rodgers — it was so long ago, she bemoans with a smile.

But under Mayor Drew Meredith, with whom she is still close, she learned about the importance of building consensus.

She called him shortly after she learned she would be Whistler's new mayor, euphoria wearing off, slight panic setting in — what do I do now, she asked Meredith, laughing now as she recalls that conversation.

And again, he counselled her to build consensus.

It's advice she has really taken to heart.

She was also a councillor for one term each under Whistler's last two mayors — Hugh O'Reilly and Ken Melamed.

"I learned from Hugh the importance of relying on staff." She pauses. "I learned from Ken the importance of not relying on staff.

"What I learned from both was that I have to take advice and then rely on my own common sense."

And, of course, she brings her own way of doing things, her own style of leadership, to the table, too. She is surrounded by six rookie councillors and works with municipal administrator Mike Furey, who is also new to the job and to the community.

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