Promises ‘aggressive agenda’ for Town Council
Rick Wood is 62 years old.
The longtime Mammoth attorney and town council member began his last year in the political arena on Wednesday night, June 19, when he took over as mayor for the fourth and final time.
While Mammoth’s town government does not give the mayor any particular power over any others on the council—the office rotates each year—Wood nevertheless said he has an “aggressive agenda” for what he said is his last year at the dais.
“We have not really had what I want,” he said in an interview earlier in the week, “which is a policy discussion of realigning our priorities.
“I want this council to take a stand, and not sort of, you know, work around the fringes on the things that are most important to them.”
First, he said, he is going to push hard to outsource recreation under the umbrella of a proposed “Mammoth Lakes Recreation” nonprofit entity (see related story). More importantly, Wood said he wants to re-frame the entire political discussion in Mammoth, as well as to lead a sweeping reorganization of the town government.
Wood said he planned to turn council meetings from the way they are now, with policy discussions back-loaded toward the end, into meetings that get to the heart of policy debates at the start. Beyond that, Wood said he wants to make changes in the way legislation is discussed by individual council members.
In making these procedural changes, Wood in effect will have issued a challenge to council members Jo Bacon, Michael Raimondo, outgoing mayor Matthew Lehman, and stalwart council member John Eastman.
“One of the things that’s struck me in the last couple of years,” he said, “is that we don’t really participate in actual debate.
“An agenda bill comes forward, staff gives a presentation, the mayor calls for questions from the council—questions, not discussion. The questions come, the questions are answered, the mayor then extends the opportunity to the public to provide comment if they wish, the council members then have an opportunity to have some discussion, but there’s no motion on the table.
“What I intend to do is have a debate. The alternative, which is what we do now, is that we have the discussion and we kind of state a position, but there’s no back-and-forth exchange to speak of.
“I’m not criticizing Mayor Lehman for the way he operates, but I want public involvement and I want council debate. I want people to be able to say, ‘This is my position, and why.’
“Let me give you an example. We know that two council members [Lehman and Raimondo] have voted ‘no’ on virtually every housing initiative that has come forward.
“It’s because they don’t like housing. Okay, that’s their view. But there’s no debate to speak of. I’m not saying I want to change everybody’s view or the outcome, but we need to have the debate, so that’s going to be a procedural change.”
Also, Wood said, he intends to use his last year to create a set of priorities in order to set what he said would be “a higher-level discussion” about town matters, starting with a reorganization.
“On July 8 we’re going to have a reorganization session and another one on July 22,” Wood said. “What I hope to accomplish is for each council member to pick their top three priorities. I hope there will be some overlap, and what I’m hoping is that at the end, we’ll be able to distill these priorities to about five, so we’ll be able to say, ‘Public, this is it. The $2 million [in the legal settlement with MLLA] is real; we have to come up with that. That’s over here, so we’ve got less to work with. Some things will have to go as a result of that.
“We’ve not been able to do that because we’ve tried to find compromises and so on, and we really haven’t had that really very firm philosophical argument.
“In my mind, we’ve got to provide pubic safety, so we have to prioritize that. We have to give priority to public works, such as snow removal and fixing the potholes, keeping the trails maintained and doing the things that private enterprises can’t do because no one can make a profit at it.
“Third, there is community and economic development. I said three years ago I wanted the zoning code updated and we didn’t get it done. If we’re going to be ready for reinvestment, the zoning code has to be a priority.”
“So, do we really want to give the Chamber of Commerce $25,000 to run the Fourth of July, or not? Do we stock fish? Do we run the pool? What do we do?
“We never really have had that discussion, and it’s kind of the way things have been structured in this past year. I want this to be a higher-level discussion.”
Whether the other council members have the skill-sets to engage in that kind of discourse is a wide-open question, though, and Wood suggested a Bacon-Lehman-Raimondo-Eastman bloc may not be willing to go into that kind of abstract political thinking.
“I don’t know, but if they’re not, then I’m going to have a one-man debate.
“It’s a great question. I don’t know. I know that the way we’ve done it has not lent itself to meaningful debate. You either step up or you don’t.
“You step up and take a position and then defend it. Or you take a position and persuade somebody else to adopt it, and if you can do that, then the community is better served, because there will be an open exchange of ideas.”