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How many cooks in Mammoth's kitchen?

May 4, 2012

There was a time, back in the boom years, when the Mammoth Lakes town offices were crowded with staffers sizing up every new wrinkle in town.

These are not those years.

On Wednesday, the Town Council took a look at streamlining town government. Specifically, it looked at a few high-level commissions and asked some tough questions.

The main questions were if some commissions should even exist all, such as the Public Arts Commission. 

The answer?

“Dissolve it,” said Councilman Rick Wood. There was no opposition.

Should the rest reduce meeting schedules on a maximum of once a month? Should certain commissions, such as the Recreation Commission, be reduced in size? Yes, yes and yes.

The council discussion was in response to a whitepaper report entitled “Direction regarding the membership and formation of the Recreation Commission, Public Arts Commission and the Airport Commission.”

Town Clerk Jamie Gray, Development Director Mark Wardlaw, Public Works Director Ray Jarvis, and Stuart Brown, the town’s Recreation Manager, wrote the whitepaper study and placed it on the agenda.

“The Town of Mammoth Lakes, like many pubic agencies, continues to struggle with lower fiscal revenues and budget constraints while still needing to provide certain public services,” the report began. 

“It is increasingly important to find ways to provide the right public services in different and more cost effective ways.

“Some of the major factors that affect the cost or providing public services include time and materials, regulations, convenience and the annual work program established by the Town Council.

“This work program includes various projects and programs, as well as resources, need to support the town’s commissions.

“It may now be appropriate to consider whether the number of commissions can be reduced and other efficiency measures.”

The staff indicated that an examination of this issue is appropriate now, in light of an imminent changeover in many commissions, alongside the increased workload on the staff as a result of layoffs, combined with commission requests and directions.

On July 31, terms on the Airport, Mobility, Planning, Public Arts and Recreation commissions will expire, and there are a lot of them.

The Planning Commission, once the most powerful commission of all (due to zoning and sign ordinances, as well as supervision of new projects) will expire the seats currently filled by Elizabeth Tenney, Sharon Clark and Jay Dienken.

So light is the Planning Commission’s agenda lately that it moved its meetings to once a month instead of twice a month. And even after that, one of its meetings didn’t happen “for lack of agenda items.”

On the Airport Commission, the terms expiring currently belong to Lee Hughes, Deb Pierrel and John Walter.

On the Mobility Commission, the terms to expire belong to Lynda Salcido, John Vereuck and Eric Wasserman. Moreover, a vacancy has existed on the Mobility Commission since Dana Grenier resigned.

On the Recreation Commission, terms expiring belong to Bill Sauser, Teri Stehlik and Sean Turner, as well as the seat left open by the resignation of Knud Svendsen. The town staff also noted that Recreation Commissioner Tony Colosarado has indicated that he will resign this year, stating personal reasons.

Meanwhile, the entire Public Arts Commission resigned last February in a snit dealing with its power vis-à-vis the Town Council. 

“I have been on the Public Arts Commission since its inception,”  wrote attorney Michael Bornfeld in a letter to the editor of the Mammoth Times. “I am resigning, not out of a sense of pique over the Town Council’s decision to give the gateway monument project $250,000 of Public Arts Commission funds, but out of a recognition of the realities of the situation.

“(Town Councilman) John Eastman, in particular, and the rest of the Council (except Ms. [Jo] Bacon) said F.U. to the PAC, by denuding the PAC funds to such an extent that we really can’t do much of anything with the remaining funds available.”

Even so, there is a Public Arts Commission in the Municipal Code, which must be changed if the Public Arts Commission is to be deep-sixed.

Thus the current government, at the commission level, has more holes than Swiss cheese, and time is running out to either fill the spots or re-think the entire structural apparatus.

All these replacements have to be in place on Aug. 1. Since all are council appointments, the usual procedure has been to interview candidates, then appoint the winners. The terms are for four years.

Highlighting the complexity of the situation is the relationship between the Mobility Commission and the Airport Commission, both of which work in the transportation arena.

Answer: One commission, to be called the Transportation Commission.

The Mobility Commission has been functioning without a fifth member for the last year, and three of the remaining four seats will expire on July 31. Similarly, the Airport Commission has three of its five seats expiring.

Two big pieces of legislation have to do with a draft Mobility Plan, along with the Airport Layout Plan Update Narrative.

“Combining transportation-related interests into a single advisory body appears to be consistent with the analysis,” the authors of the report said.

As for the Recreation Commission, the current code requires seven members. The obvious change would be to downsize it to five.

It all makes sense to the authors of the whitepaper.

“Staffing of commissions is funded by the General Fund,” the four authors wrote. “Reducing the numbers and streamlining the processes should result in cost savings.

“Staffing for the town’s commissions takes considerable time.  Any adjustments made to the town’s commissions may either add or free up staff times.”

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