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Mayor reflects on ‘hardest year’ in public office

Whistler’s ‘defining moment’ almost here; has it been worth it?



It's been a tension-filled year in Whistler; no one knows that more so than Mayor Ken Melamed.

"It's been the hardest year of my professional life in politics," said the mayor in this week of reflection as he prepares to say goodbye to 2009 and welcome in the long-awaited year of 2010.

After nine years as a councillor and four years as council's leader, a role he never really expected to have, 2009 has left Whistler's mayor at a crossroads.

It's not as though there haven't been some personal milestones and accomplishments this year.

He has travelled far and wide telling Whistler's sustainability story and promoting its Whistler2020 community plan. That included a 10-city trip to Italy and France with 12 speaking engagements, a trip to four communities in Ontario and a whirlwind visit to Minneapolis-St. Paul where he delivered four presentations in eight hours.

He also turned down three other international invitations, choosing instead to speak via video-conference in Belgium and Sweden.

The taxpayer doesn't pay a dime for this.

"It's contributing to what I'm most passionate about, which is creating a better society, a more sustainable society for our children," said Melamed. "And also raising the profile and the respect for Whistler."

But, while Whistler was getting praise and accolades abroad, on the homefront tensions were rising.

The Whistler 2020 sustainability plan essentially puts an end to growth in the municipality. For the first time ever this year, the municipality was truly faced with a budgetary crisis of sorts - how to pay for all the services and upkeep of a world-class resort without relying on new development.

In the spring council passed an unpopular budget that paved the way for almost 20 per cent tax hikes over three years.

That was bad enough but, set against the backdrop of a catastrophic global economic crisis that had everyone on tenterhooks as pension plans floundered and jobs were on the line, it set the community on edge.

By the summertime, with little new information from Olympic organizers, there was a near constant questioning of the value to Whistler of hosting the 2010 Winter Games.

Council began responding to the worry and stress in the community with palpable tension among councillors and the last public meetings of 2009 were argumentative and a little hostile.

The man at the helm of it all, who has been publicly taken to task over the decisions of the past year, had one word for 2009: "brutal."

It's not as though he hasn't seen this before from the inside. He was, after all, part of Mayor Hugh O'Reilly's council in 2005 - a divisive and dysfunctional team, often at odds publicly with each other and with staff. It ultimately resulted in O'Reilly telecommuting from Hawaii, where he took up a new job, for the last four months of his term.