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Government's role

May 11, 2012

Amid the many voices at last Tuesday’s special (and fascinating) Town Council meeting, there was a proposal to initiate a kind of philosophical, ongoing debate around here.

Councilman Rick Wood raised the question, and as esoteric as it was, it nevertheless struck us as being somehow important in the long run.

Wood, an attorney who is no stranger to the dais, acknowledged the many people who showed up to emphasize their support of tourism.

Yet when it came his turn to speak directly to the issue, Wood veered.

“It seems to me that with respect to tourism, and I didn’t hear it tonight, I’d like to have the debate, and that is, what role should the government play in the promotion of itself and its policies?

“What should the relationship be between government and the money that grows through tax dollars, and the private sector that benefits directly and indirectly? I think that initiates a debate.”

We think so, too, even though we’re not really quite sure exactly where Wood was going with this.

But we like a good debate as much as anything around here, particularly when it is of the Big Picture variety. So here we go:

We believe Mammoth has curious vacuum pockets, and over the years people have come to expect an active town government to come riding to the rescue. That works sometimes, and sometimes not.

A case in point is the idea of a unified, viable trail system, followed by action. That is what makes the Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access so great. It is filling a vacuum pocket way better than government could ever do, even though it has been yakking about this very thing for at least a decade.

We have a curiously weak Chamber of Commerce—albeit growing with the formation of several groups—but then isn’t it true that we have always vaguely believed the town government would provide for the merchants in some way, somehow?

And so on.

If the government is to be the rah-rah component of the town, we think it’s a good idea to examine that, and so does Wood.

For now, we say that the government is there to provide the heavy lifting of infrastructure, such as roads, lights, public safety and so on. It is not in the business of marketing, per se, other than what people might surmise from its budget decisions.

“If you invest heavily in attracting people to come to the community,” Wood said, “and they run through potholes, or the snow isn’t cleared, or the streetlights don’t work, or the police don’t come or the bike trail isn’t fixed, then you haven’t provided the experience that you’ve advertised.

“Our roads are grossly underfunded. That’s just an example of what we need to take care of, once we bring folks here. You can see the mountains in the pictures and the advertising, but we have to provide our visitors with a quality experience when they get here. “

So, in a nutshell, what Wood wants is an ongoing debate as to whether the town government should play a kind of New Deal, active role, or should it perform in a more of a hands-off manner.

We have no idea where this going to go, or even if such a wide-open discussion on this point would ever take place.

But it sounds like a good thing to try.

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