Wells joins the race to be mayor 

Whistler’s longest-serving councillor to run for top job

The past three years on council haven’t been very much fun said Councillor Kristi Wells, as one member of a council that struggled hard to be a cohesive team.

The time is ripe for new leadership to galvanize the community out of its slump and effectively prepare to take advantage of all the 2010 Olympics has to offer.

Admittedly, it’s a daunting prospect but after 12 years at the council table, Wells said she is ready for the challenge to lead the town as mayor for the next three years. She made her intentions public last Thursday at the Women of Whistler meeting.

"It’s make or break from a lot of points of view and it’s not just about a good snow year and it’s not just the municipality either," she said. "This is time for unprecedented teamwork and it needs to be felt all the way through (the community).

"We are all suffering and we all need to get creative and work together."

A strong leader is so important, she added, as this critical juncture in Whistler’s history.

"This is a huge fork in the road for Whistler in many different ways," she said. "The leadership that is required has to understand that, has to have a context of the subtleties involved in that fork in the road. It isn’t just a left or a right. There’s a bigger picture there.

"This is very much a time that both community and resort have to be so symbiotic."

One of the first tasks for the new council, said Wells, is commissioning an organizational review of municipal hall from an outside party, which would recognize holes in the organization and look at ways to make it more efficient. Wells has been asking for this review for the past three years, to no avail.

A structural review will determine how effective municipal hall is to deliver the Olympics as well as all the actions outlined in Whistler 2020 – the community’s vision document.

The other key priority for the next council she said is to begin a strong provincial lobby at a political level for a number of outstanding issues, such as the promises that were made during Olympic negotiations. That includes Whistler’s long-promised financial tools and closure on the 300-acre community land bank. The province also needs to resolve the Class 1/Class 6 tax issue which allows some resort condo properties to be taxed more than three times as much as similar properties. The municipality has long argued that the tax structure creates unfairness and inequity in the system, which is detrimental both to the municipality and investors.

For years the municipality has been lobbying the provincial government at the bureaucratic level, trying to build partnerships and understanding on these issues. That hasn’t worked, said Wells, and she said it’s time to start playing hardball.

"That was not the style of our past leadership," she said. "But this is now clearly a political issue.

"We cannot move forward effectively and positively in this community on so many levels if we don’t have more resources to do that with."

This is also a time for council to make some hard decisions and prioritize their work. Wells said there has to be a shift in focus. While there are many worthy projects in the pipeline or up for consideration, such as creating a Centre for Sustainability, there may be other more important things to consider first.

"Those are hard decisions," she said. "There is business that you have to do, business as usual but everything else and how you choose to put your energies is discretionary and that discretion belongs to council as leaders of the community.

"Council needs to tell the community what those choices are and direct staff to find the most efficient way to implement them."

Wells is the most experienced member of council, save Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, with 12 years under her belt. She first won a seat on council under Mayor Ted Nebbeling when she was just 23 years old.

In many ways she has matured and grown up in the public eye, learning about municipal politics and discovering things about herself along the way, both positive and negative. She has chaired numerous committees and as such as honed her leadership skills.

More recently Wells, the mother of two children, said her personal life has lined up to allow her to seriously consider the mayor’s job. She is getting married in December and her fiancé has recently moved to Whistler and will be working from home in the medical field for the next year.

"I recognize the commitment not just in time but in your head and your heart," she said. "This isn’t just a job. It’s very much a service. It has to be a piece of who you are."

And she feels with her experience and her passion that she is right for the job.

"I don’t have the confidence in the current candidates that they can really represent the core Whistler issues in a balanced approach or have a true understanding of the style of leadership that’s required."

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