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Council committees making a comeback

Mayor sticks to platform of transparency and accountability



Council has pulled back the curtains of municipal finance with its recently released first quarterly budget report.

The report gives taxpayers, always keen for insight on where their tax dollars are going, a new window into the financial inner workings of the hall — where the money is being spent division by division at a snapshot in time, in this case for the quarter ending June 30, 2012.

With no benchmark comparison, perhaps what this first report shows most is just how much work and time is going in to making municipal hall more transparent, more accountable, more open to public scrutiny than ever before.

"I believe we have attempted to answer the question often posed by interested taxpayers that the 'consolidated' annual report is confusing," said Councillor Duane Jackson.

Jackson is one member of the finance and audit committee, which met every two weeks before the summer in order to deliver on one of the key promises made by council this term, namely fiscal responsibility.

Prior to this council's term, the finance and audit committee met once or twice per year, its primary function to review financial information and audited financial statements.

Times, however, have changed.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden is a big believer of committee work and she's putting those beliefs to the test this term.

Council has created new committees — the illegal space task force committee, the festivals, events and animation committee, the economic partnership committee. It has resurrected old committees like recreation and leisure. It has put seldom-used committees like finance and audit back to work. And it has added more community oversight to long-standing committees like this year's addition of two community members to the transit management committee. It has also reintroduced Committee of the Whole meetings, a chance for council to hear information but not make decisions or debate the merits of projects.

"I am a firm believer in the value of committee work," said the mayor. "It is such a good way to receive input from so many people."

Indeed, in her platform for election Wilhelm-Morden called for more transparency and accountability at the hall.

"... I will suggest more use of citizens' task forces," said then candidate Wilhelm-Morden in her 'Nancy for Mayor' website. "There are many intelligent, engaged community members in Whistler. If faced with a thorny issue, let's bring representatives of the town in to help council craft the solution."

But does this added layer of work slow down the oft-criticized pace of business at the local government?

"Perhaps it slows things down," mused the mayor when first asked the question. As she considered the question further she pointed to the flurry of activity this year by the newly created illegal space task force which tackled a problem that has eluded the municipality for decades and brought forward bylaws all within the space of a few months.