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O’Reilly moving to Hawaii

Mayor announces he will telecommute for remainder of his term

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After 17 years serving Whistler, eight as a councillor and nine as the mayor, Hugh O’Reilly is trading in his politician’s hat and setting his sights on fairer shores.

In an emotional press conference Wednesday O’Reilly announced, with watering eyes and breaking voice, that he would not be seeking a fourth term as mayor of Whistler.

"I didn’t prepare for this part," he said, pausing to collect his emotions.

Within the month O’Reilly and his wife Patti will be settling down in Hawaii, where the mayor will be selling real estate for Playground, a subsidiary of Intrawest, at their new 700-unit condo and townhome development named Honua Kai in the North Beach area of Kaanapali on Maui.

"We’re creating a new chapter in our lives," he said.

The mayor will not be stepping down prior to November’s municipal election; rather he will be telecommuting for meetings and even flying in for some.

This was not a quick decision.

O’Reilly, who has dual Canadian/U.S. citizenship, first started pursuing Playground in December and has quietly been working at getting his real estate licence over the last several months. Last week however, everything fell into place and the future he said is now very exciting.

"Everything we touched in Hawaii was magic," said O’Reilly looking tanned and relaxed after his recent vacation there.

The O’Reilly’s have lived in Whistler for 30 years, raising their two children here.

He began his life here as a ski bum, became the town’s chimney sweep 20 years ago and somehow fell into the role of local politician, as the candidate representing young families in a growing resort.

After eight years as councillor he ran for mayor and won, taking over from Ted Nebbeling, who went on to become the area’s MLA.

The last three years however, have been admittedly very tough and challenging, working with a council that hasn’t been able to gel.

"This has been a very difficult term," he said candidly.

"My leadership style didn’t seem to fit with this group of people."

Some of his fellow councillors were surprised at the announcement, only hearing about it via a short e-mail minutes before the press conference.

"I am a little shocked," said Councillor Marianne Wade. "We knew nothing."

Likewise Councillor Caroline Lamont expressed her surprise.

"I am surprised in some ways because I had thought about a year and a half ago he indicated that he wanted to be mayor through to the Olympics," she said.

"So I guess in that sense, because I had heard him say otherwise, that was a bit surprising."

Though the 2010 Olympics was a huge draw to try to stay on as Whistler’s mayor, O’Reilly just couldn’t reconcile a six-year decision on a 17-day event. It just didn’t make any sense he said.

Lamont was also concerned about O’Reilly serving as mayor from Hawaii for four months, particularly as the next four months will be very busy.

"I wasn’t sure that that’s really a responsible way to finish your term," she said.

Under the Local Government Act, however, it is legal for the mayor to "attend" the meeting via phone, although there must be a quorum (or four members of council) physically present in the room.

Lamont also had concerns about the added workload to council with the mayor away for the next four months. Other councilors, she added, will have to fill in as acting mayor without compensation.

"I just think it’s a little unfair to put that burden on councillors without even speaking with them first," she added.

O’Reilly said he takes some responsibility for the divisive nature of his council. One of the major challenges, he said, is that some councillors have been "overly engaged," asking perhaps too many questions and giving too much direction to staff. He cited the $10 million library and the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan as two areas where council got too involved in the process. He knows not everyone on council shares that opinion.

"I’m very frustrated and very unhappy with what’s happened," he said. "And again, I’m sharing the responsibility because maybe I could have done more, I should have done more. But the fact is, for my first six years it worked very well. That’s who I am, that’s how I work."

The divide at council is felt throughout municipal hall he added, where he believes some staff are tired and frustrated with council.

Councillor Marianne Wade said she thinks this council has been healthy, with a lot of good debate. The key, however, is knowing how to manage that debate.

"In order to get good government you do need debate," she said.

Councillor Gordon McKeever echoed those comments.

"The debate and disagreement that has been evident at times at the council table is, to me, the sign of a healthy functioning council," he said.

Both, however, wished the mayor well in his new path.

Though he has his own sites set on sunnier climes, O’Reilly said the groundwork is set for Whistler as it heads into the future.

"I think we have every reason to be optimistic about Whistler’s future," he said.

He phoned Premier Gordon Campbell on Tuesday to let him know of his decision and asked him to deliver on the promises made years ago for financial tools for Whistler. That promise looks closer than ever to being delivered, said O’Reilly, and he is hoping to leave Whistler with that legacy in place.

He will also encourage people to run for council in November and support those candidates he feels will do a good job.

"All I care about is Whistler. That’s all I care about."

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