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Whistler’s financial future prompts Rhodes to join election fray

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‘I am accountable to you,’ says Rhodes

Mitch Rhodes, a strong force in the volunteer community, wants to take his work in Whistler up a notch and run for a council seat.

"I’m so involved in community affairs that I want to do it from a council level position, just to take it up one more step," said Rhodes, who announced Tuesday he would seek election.

While he is active in the Whistler community on various volunteer activities, as President of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment and as Treasurer of the Whistler Health Care Foundation among other things, Rhodes also has a strong background in finance.

He wants to put this financial experience to work at municipal hall in securing a sound fiscal future for Whistler.

Before moving to Whistler, Rhodes practised as a chartered accountant in Ontario, working in the entertainment industry in financial and strategic planning.

He has a BA in Economics from the University of Western Ontario and an Honours Business degree from the University of Windsor.

He says Whistler’s economic growth trend over the past 15 years may not continue. His economic senses are telling him that Whistler needs a tight contingency plan in place to deal with a potentially uncertain future.

"Whistler needs a financial plan that specifically outlines a course of action that is to be implemented when municipal revenues begin to decrease," he said.

"If works and service fees and hotel tax decrease by 10 per cent, 20 per cent, 50 per cent, what combination of operational cutbacks and tax increases will be used to finance such a downturn?"

Instead of being reactive when tax revenues decrease, the municipality should have a documented financial plan in place, which the community agrees with and understands.

Another strategic and operational plan needs to be in place to deal with the lack of affordable and available housing in Whistler, says Rhodes.

That plan needs to be put in place within the first year of the new council’s mandate.

"The lack of affordable housing is slowly sucking the life and vibrancy out of the community," he said.

"If we don’t collectively find a way to stop that drain, Whistler, as we know and love it, will lose its soul and its appeal as a thriving resort town."

He says there is no silver bullet solution to this issue and so a co-ordinated effort from all sectors of the community needs to be arranged.

He maintains that community involvement is a key part of Whistler’s future.

"People in Whistler say they want more input on decisions that council makes, but there is no system to accurately monitor and record public views," he said.

His plan, if elected, is to introduce a Direct Inclusive Democracy to Whistler.

Each eligible voter would get a PIN number. Rhodes would host a Web site where voters can log on and vote on issues coming before council.

This is an attempt to engage the cynical and disenfranchised members of the community, he said.

"It’s a wider issue than Whistler but it would be a good place to introduce it where people are a little more progressive in their thinking."

Another part of his platform involves engaging the public on the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Rather than a referendum, he would like to put the question to a vote. In this way, Whistler can officially gauge public support without being mired in the legal ramifications of a referendum.

"I believe the people of Whistler should be presented with an opportunity to vote on a simply worded question to show their support, or not, for hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics," he said, adding that this would be a good way to engage people and share information.

"People generally appreciate the opportunity to participate in that type of decision."

Rhodes has been living in Whistler for the past four years after moving here from Ontario with his wife Suzanne Denbak, president of Tourism Whistler.

"I gave up all my corporate responsibilities and I started a new life in volunteerism," he said, calling his current life on various boards and foundations far more fulfilling than the life he left behind.

Along with his work with AWARE and the Whistler Health Care Foundation Rhodes is also a member of One Whistler, the Community Foundation of Whistler’s Environmental Legacy Fund Advisory Board and a board member of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

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