Mammoth has an undeniable volunteer spirit.
We have volunteers for the Half-Marathon; we have do-gooders for the Fourth of July Parade. The Jazz Jubilee draws so many volunteers that sometimes we wonder if they don’t outnumber the paying customers.
There were so many volunteers for the Town Cleanup Day in the spring that there wasn’t a single McDonald’s bag, Carl’s Jr. cup, or Vons plastic bag that was safe; this coming weekend, volunteers will be at Minaret Vista, helping rebuild a trail that badly needs it.
We’d be totally self-satisfied with this happy state of affairs except for one thing:
In the things that really matter, we’re not seeing a whole lot of volunteers.
One of the central tenets of the re-tooled town plan in the wake of the Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition (MLLA) legal settlement was that the town was going to create a number of volunteer programs.
These volunteer programs were to help in the areas of public safety, parks and recreation, and anywhere else there was a hole that needed plugging.
It has now been a year since Mammoth walked to the edge of municipal bankruptcy; it has been 10 months since the settlement itself was reached.
Since then, on the volunteer front, we’ve seen bupkus.
If there were a concert ticket at the end of the process, maybe we’d see more action; at least a picnic, right?
But there is something that is even more troubling—storm clouds that are hanging way, way out there, barely visible from where we stand today.
That would be the town’s ultimate volunteer job: a membership on the Town Council.
In a little less than a year, voters will flock to the polls to elect council members to seats that currently are held by Mayor Rick Wood, who says he will not run again, longtime council member John Eastman, and Matthew Lehman.
They will flock to the polls unless there is no election, which is what happened last time around, when seats occupied by Jo Bacon and the late Skip Harvey were up for grabs.
In that election, Bacon announced she would run again, and as for the other seat, only one person in Mammoth, Michael Raimondo, announced a candidacy.
The paucity of interest among the townspeople was embarrassing for the town, the town government, and for the citizenry in general. The general consensus, heard here and there around Mammoth, was that you’d have to be a little nuts to run for a job that paid next to nothing, offered little but grief and withering criticism in the immediate future, and took loads of time.
At least on the county level there is a payoff. A Mono County Supervisor draws an average annual salary of $45,966, according to the state controller’s office. The chairman of the board of supervisors in Mono County draws $63,673, according to the controller.
As a result of comparable compensation, combined with apathy, the Town Council called off the last council election entirely; it appointed Bacon and Raimondo to seats, relieving them of actually having to campaign for the spots, and Mammoth bumped along its way, toward where we are today.
It almost made us wish that Mammoth would just declare itself all for the Athenian Democracy model of appointing policy makers to governing bodies by lot—a simple draw among qualified voters. If you get the straw, you’re on the council.
Maybe one of these days someone will declare for the council. Maybe we’ll actually get a gaggle of candidates. We doubt it, though.
Mammoth Rocks is coming up, and it needs the volunteers more than the town does.