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Perception versus accountability?



"Perception" is a troubling word and a troubling concept in times of political turmoil.

I was reminded of that again this week when the local media had its first chance to chat with the new CAO for the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

There has been, said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed at the briefing, an ongoing and somewhat pervasive "perception" that staff has been calling the shots when it comes to running the town for many years.

Not so, said our Mayor - and now with the new CAO Mike Furey in place the perception will be laid to rest once and for all.

"This is something that we really want to try and address ... this perception that staff have been running the Hall. To coin a phrase - bullshit," said Melamed in a brook-no-argument tone.

"I am actually quite bothered by councillors who infer at council meetings that staff did this or that or the other thing. Council has to take responsibility for every decision that's made because they're the ones that vote, they're the ones that give direction to staff and they're the ones that approve the recommendations or not. And yet somehow, and it's unfortunate, this community somehow believes that staff have been running the show."

And so change is coming? Furey explained that as a long-time federal and provincial government employee the fabric of his role is to take guidance from elected officials - not tell them what to do.

"I've worked in government, as I said, for a long time," said Furey - his crisp shirt and jacket an extension of his quiet, confident manner.

"As a public servant we take direction from the elected officials. So when I was with the province, cabinet and the premier gave direction on what areas they wanted the ministry and staff to work on and I see the same concept here.

"They set the agenda."

All reassuring words though I kept waiting for the inevitable "but" - and here it is - the way to help achieve this new "perception" is to take even tighter control of information coming out of the Hall.

Even as our mayor extols the importance of transparency while attending the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver over the last few days the reality is information sharing continues on the Hall's terms - behind closed door meetings, in camera sessions and controlled interviews for the media.

"Everyone is making greater and greater efforts to improve accountability and transparency and yet at the same time we have to have these closed meetings," said Melamed Tuesday.