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Council retreats to Callaghan Country

Mayor talks about first 220 days in office

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Being a part of Whistler council isn’t for the faint of heart.

There are thick agendas full of reports to digest on a bi-weekly basis, high-level intense debates around the table and contentious decisions to stand by in the face of public pressure.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the two-hour hike in the Callaghan Valley to tackle in order to get to the latest council retreat.

"This isn’t the white table cloth and silver, fly in by helicopter (retreat)," joked Mayor Ken Melamed this week. "This is a bunch of older kids doing a ‘comfort camping’ thing."

With backpacks and hiking shoes, council set off Tuesday, without staff, for a team building retreat at Callaghan Country.

And though it’s just an overnight getaway with the team (Councillor Gord McKeever is the only councillor who could not make it because of a prior commitment), it is perhaps symbolic of the first 220 days of council’s term – working together, doing things a little differently, and some could argue, a tough uphill climb.

To listen to him speak at the Rotary Club Tuesday morning it’s easy to agree Melamed has started to grow more comfortable in the mayor’s shoes.

"The time has flown by," he said. "We’ve tried to close a lot of files and we’ve been successful."

He spoke of the "relief" of finally getting the province to agree to the long-promised financial tools, a deal which will see Whistler get an additional $6 million a year from the provincial hotel tax coffers. If we achieve nothing else, the mayor told Rotary members, the tools represent a major win for the community.

The tools also paved the way for the 2010 athletes’ village development, closing the loop in the business plan.

"It’s a relief to finally see that work begin," said Melamed.

A quick rundown on other projects reveals the progress of this council: the Rainbow housing development is at third reading, as is the Cressey redevelopment of the Shoestring Lodge site, the Holborn development is back in the pipeline and the deal is almost signed on the 300-acre Olympic land bank legacy.

There are still several outstanding issues, not the least of which is a decision on the Paralympic arena and approval of the resort’s boundary expansion.

And Rotary Club members weren’t going to pass up the chance to ask the mayor some hot questions.

Peter Alder questioned how council conducts its business. A lot of the discussions are done in secret, he said, and he suggested hiring a public relations firm to keep the community informed.

Another Rotarian, Karen Tamaki, asked about Whistler’s Olympic executive director Jim Godfrey and his role. She questioned his absence at recent Olympic-related open houses.

Melamed defended Godfrey, commenting on his tremendous workload and the fact that his job sees him in Vancouver more often than not in a workweek.

He also said the municipality has recently hired Sharon Fugman to assist in the 2010 Olympic Games Office at municipal hall, which should ease the executive director’s workload.

Other questions were varied, ranging from expanding the highway in Whistler and the proposed multi-million dollar renovations at municipal hall to the new transfer station in the Callaghan Valley.

"I don’t mind the hot questions," the mayor said at the end of the meeting.

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