For the first time in its two years leading the community, council is feeling the brunt of public criticism.
And it doesn’t feel good.
The discontent has been building over a series of decisions, and what some see as a failure to communicate them adequately, over the past several months, culminating in the six per cent increase to next year’s property taxes.
Council, as it crests the two-year mark of its term and heads into the home stretch, is feeling a little bruised.
This is a council, after all, that has not seen much community backlash despite making several controversial decisions in its term to date.
Mayor Ken Melamed is old hat to public criticism. It’s not that he’s immune to the sting of disapproval; it just comes with the political territory, and he’s been at it a long time.
“It’s one of the most difficult parts of the job because no matter how hard we try to act in the best interests of the community, there are people out there who think otherwise,” says the seasoned politician.
When asked to reflect on what’s happened in the last few months, the mayor takes a big picture view, pinpointing not so much the individual decisions made by the town’s political leaders but the general sense of tension in the community.
This is a critical time for Whistler. It’s co-hosting one of the biggest world events, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, in just a few short years.
“I’m sensing that it’s just a general nervousness as we approach the Games,” says Melamed. “There’s a lot riding on the future and I think… the anticipation of the decisions is starting to show, I don’t think as much from a council perspective but out in the community. And so the criticism has been increased if you will.”
At the same time business as Whistler knew it is on the cusp of major change. The resort has matured and the community has decided it will not grow any more. That has long-term implications, both economic and social, the reality of which the community may not have come to grips with.
“We have to redefine our business model,” says the mayor. “And it’s interesting — that transition is happening at the same time we’re preparing for the biggest winter sporting event. One of those events alone is enough to stress a community and we’ve got them both going on at the same time.”
His sense is that the community is on edge — worried about the decisions being made today and how they will impact the future. That unease has begun to manifest only recently in loud criticism of council.