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Furey: Relationship building biggest achievement

Municipal administrator reflects on one-year milestone at organization




With one year under his belt, municipal CAO Mike Furey could have said delivering this year's budget with no tax increases is his proudest achievement to date.

Then again, he could have chosen reorganizing the team at municipal hall and developing a corporate plan as a work roadmap for the organization as the achievement that tops his list.

Or, he may have mentioned setting up a new economic partnership initiative — a resort-wide economic plan for Whistler's future — as his biggest accomplishment.

But he didn't say any of those things.

What he did say, when asked what he's proudest of during his first year as the man in charge of Whistler's water, roads, sewers and parks and the gamut of things in between, reveals more about Furey himself and the state of affairs at municipal hall then anything else he could have said.

"I think what I'm proudest of to date is the relationship that we have between council and the staff," said Furey, an outsider when he was hired by the previous council to take charge at the hall in 2011.

So often at odds over the decades in Whistler, this relationship — a power struggle between elected officials and public bureaucrats — has frequently been under the public microscope. The all too familiar refrain in Whistler is that strong municipal staff calls the shots with a council unable to rein in control.

The tune, however, seems to have changed with Furey as conductor and a new council writing the songbook.

"I think over the last number of months... since they've been elected we, being council and the senior management team, have established a real sense of collaboration and trust and respect that is two-way... I think we owe it to the community to keep that as one of our main focuses — to keep that spirit of collaboration and trust and really that extends out to further build the community's trust in the municipality both in terms of what we do, and their impression of our work and our contribution to the community and the resort as a whole."

It's perhaps because of this tight relationship between the two sides that has made getting things done, achieving council's goals these past six months, a reality.

Furey reported on these goals at Tuesday's council meeting giving a six-month progress report on the action items laid out in the Council Action Plan.

Checked off his list is the organizational review, the Festivals, Events and Animation review, the creation of oversight committees to help guide direction, and the new quarterly financial reports, to name a few.

"I thought when we created it we were setting ourselves up with a fairly aggressive agenda and we're plowing through it... very well and it's all good stuff," said a pleased Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden after the meeting.

It hasn't all been easy. Furey pointed to the difficult work of restructuring the senior management team and then the next level of municipal staff. Jobs were cut.

"That's always very difficult and challenging work when you're dealing with individuals and organizations," he said. "These are peoples' jobs and livelihoods."

Despite the challenges he has managed to settle in with his family and Whistler now feels like home — "a wonderful home."

His perception of Whistler has changed now that he's a local but he still feels like he needs to learn more.

"I'm still learning about what the economic engine of Whistler is," admitted Furey. "The more I learn about what drives Whistler, the more questions I have about what's the true economic driver of the community."

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