When I expressed initial trepidation to the idea of writing this column, then-editor Jennifer Miller said “don’t worry Nick, the few people that actually read your column will only read the middle third” or words to that effect. I probably didn’t believe Jennifer, or I would not have started down this road. Unfortunately Jennifer’s observation appears to be all too true.
Last week my fellow Question columnist Cindy Filipenko wrote that I had “suggested that community consultation be waived in the case of a proposed new museum/art gallery.”
That simply is not correct. I did not write that community consultation should be waived. What I wrote was quite the opposite: “There should be no community consultation on whether we should entertain this proposal. Council should make the decision, and make it quickly… Advisory, non-binding community consultations on architecture and design, land use considerations and facility programming should be firmly scheduled.”
Council often considers or “entertains” good ideas without consulting the community. Some apparently good ideas actually have merit, while others have a fatal flaw, which can be uncovered after a little digging. It would be a tremendous waste of time and money to initiate a public consultation process for every good idea that walks through the doors of the Municipal Hall. One of the things we elected council to do was to entertain ideas, do the preliminary investigation, and decide which good ideas are worth pursuing and which ideas are good for others but not for us.
Once council decides an idea is worth pursuing, and in the case of Michael Audain’s proposal I suggested council should make that decision quickly, there are two sets of considerations. The first set of considerations revolves around the questions “what does this project look like?” and “is it for us?” The second set revolves around the questions “what is the deal?” and “at what point in the process are we bound to the deal, if ever?”
With respect to the first set of questions I wrote “advisory, non-binding community consultations on architecture and design, land-use considerations and facility programming should be firmly scheduled.” In fact the full extent of the process will depend upon how council views the proposal, the legal requirements and the proponent’s budget. In order to properly consult the community, the look, feel and terms of the proposal need to be agreed in a preliminary way in a letter of intent or similar document. Otherwise council and the proponents have nothing to take to the community.
The only binding community consultations are elections and referenda. Other than that, all community consultations are advisory and non-binding. If past history is any indicator, community consultation will result in improvements to the project, which will trigger changes to the deal. For that reason a binding agreement cannot be signed until the community has been consulted. Of course, it is always possible that community consultation can bring a proposed project to a screeching halt. Hopefully that is not going to happen with the proposed art museum.
Those who want to be consulted as soon as a good idea comes through the doors of Municipal Hall should run for council. Those who are opposed to Mr. Audain’s proposal before hearing anything other than what is available in the rumour mill and preliminary press reports should lobby their favourite councillors.
I am not sure why Cindy Filipenko would have misquoted me so badly. The next election is a couple of years away. We are not competing for column space. We appear to agree on quite a bit. We are both concerned that the final form of the project be right for Whistler. We are both concerned that the financial risk to the community be eliminated. My guess is Cindy misread my comments because they were not in the middle third of my column. My mistake was in not taking Jennifer Miller’s words more seriously.