Unhappy trails: Decision to scrap Whitehorse greenways committee surprises some councillors

‘It is not that the comittee failed the council, it’s that the council failed the comittee’

The proposed dissolution of the Whitehorse trails and greenways committee caused some discord among council at the July 31 standing committee meeting.

Coun. Roslyn Woodcock said the unofficial decision to disband the WTGC, which has been an advisory council to the city since 2007, was discussed with council at a regular meeting on advisory boards July 13. Some council members, however, took issue with Mayor Dan Curtis and Woodcock’s decision to bring this to the attention of trails committee members at their regularly scheduled meeting July 20.

The disbandment had not yet gone before council for a formal vote, and was therefore unofficial, despite the notification of the WTGC.

“I was a bit surprised … to find we had officially disbanded the trails and greenways committee,” said Coun. Dan Boyd with a hint of sarcasm. “I would have liked to have it brought before council before we officially decide what to do.”

The minutes of the July 20 WTGC meeting note, at item three, that “senior administration had a meeting with mayor and council and it was determined by council that the trails and greenways committee will not function past the completion of the 2007 trail plan concluding at the end of 2017. The committee was unofficially disbanded at the end of this meeting. Council will officially disband the Whitehorse trails and greenways committee at an upcoming council meeting.”

Woodcock, who sits on the trails committee as an ex-officio member (she observes proceedings and answers questions but doesn’t have a vote) said telling committee members the WTGC is being shut down was the right thing to do. The WTGC does not traditionally meet in August, so to not say anything to members would have meant they would have assumed they were returning in September, Woodcock said.

“I was not going to not tell them. I wasn’t going to wait until September,” said Woodcock in a post-meeting interview.

“It was identified as not a responsible thing to do bring it before council without telling the committee that this was what the council was thinking to do,” said acting city manager Linda Rapp.

At particular issue was a comment made by Curtis, where Curtis said he felt it was “not that the committee had failed the council but that the council had failed the committee.”

“I, too, like Coun. Boyd was surprised to hear of this through local media outlets,” said Coun. Samson Hartland. “This was an unofficial disbanding with a message we (the council) were not aware was going to be delivered.”

“How is it that we have failed this committee?” asked Boyd.

There were some calls for the minutes of the July 20 WTGC meeting be altered to show that Curtis was not speaking for council. The trails committee’s meetings are available online, but are limited to decisions, and do not include detailed proceedings.

Woodcock said she also felt council had “disappointed” the committee.

“I want it noted that I don’t want the minutes to shift to such a degree that that is not clear,” she said.

Curtis said the WTGC was already considered “in sunset,” meaning it was going to be phased out at some point in 2017.

“In this year or within the next, when the next set of trails come up, (previous committee members) would be reached out to to see if they would like to participate again,” Curtis said.

The decision to disband the WTGC “came to a head,” said Woodcock, discussion about trails in Whistle Bend. Members felt the relationship with council deteriorated, Curtis said.

“I can’t speak for the WTGC,” Woodcock said, “but I think they felt that individual delegates and lobby groups were receiving more weight than the committee.”

Woodock said members understood the decision to disband the committee but were disappointed.

“People were in tears,” said Woodcock. “This (committee) is a huge deal to them. They’re very passionate about this. For some people on the WTGC, this is thousands and thousands of volunteer hours.”

Woodcock said for her two years on council, trails have been a highly charged issue. She said at one point, someone threatened a trails committee member and police had to be called in to intervene. Woodcock declined to elaborate.

Woodcock said there are “vexatious complainers” about trails issues.

“I don’t know how it is that the jewel of our community … can be so contentious,” she said. “I find it endlessly frustrating and fascinating.”

The formal council vote to disband the committee will take place in September.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com