County, town edge toward cooperation


Agreement to share IT survives county criticism, complaints

Agreeing to share IT services between the Town of Mammoth Lakes and Mono County might not seem like a big deal.

Counties and communities do it all the time.

But those counties and communities aren’t Mono County and Mammoth, with their checkered history of fighting over just about everything, from airports to garbage.

When the two governments agreed Tuesday, May 7, to use Mono County’s robust IT department to provide emergency and high priority IT services to the Town of Mammoth Lakes, it was a big deal.

It was one that some county and town officials said they hope will pave the way toward greater cooperation in the future.

The cooperative agreement did not necessarily come easily, though.

At least one supervisor, Larry Johnston, took Mammoth Lakes Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez’s request for help as an opportunity to, as he said, “hand-slap.”

“I’m pleased you finally are asking for help,” he said. “I would encourage you to ask for other things, too, if that makes sense. I do get the sense, however, that you ignored critical infrastructure [so] that you are in such dire straits. It bothers me that you have ignored this for so long, [given] these services are essential to a modern government performance.”

He added that the county had five to six people on its IT staff, and asked why the town didn’t have at least three to four.

He took the time, also, to bring up the town’s projected 2013-14 budget shortfall, asking Marysheva-Martinez what “is the assurance it (the town’s funding for the county’s services) will be there next year?”

Marysheva-Martinez absorbed the criticism about the staffing, then moved the discussion forward.

“I agree, we failed to properly invest in our IT,” she said. “However, it has become a priority and our way of showing that is to ask for your help.”

She noted she had approached other entities for the services the town needs, but was most impressed with the quality of the county’s IT department. And, she added that the shortfall would not affect the IT funding; that money is protected, she said.

“I will not and the Town Council will not,” she said.

Then Supervisor Tim Fesko stepped in.

“Why did you let go of your senior IT staff?” he asked. “I have a philosophical wrestle. I do not believe in county government providing services to another government agency. I believe our staff is overworked and even if we add another person, it might not be enough.”

Other supervisors, however, pointed out that the town was willing to pay for the service and was not asking for a handout.

The county’s IT director, Clay Neely, said the county could manage the increased workload, if properly compensated and if the work done on the town’s problems were done in phases, in such a way as to not affect the county’s IT obligations.

Supervisor Fred Stump brought up a different issue—the ongoing tussle between the county and the town over garbage. He first noted he fully supported the idea of a cooperative agreement, and then added a request.

“I’m going to ask a direct question, since you like direct questions,” he said to Marysheva-Martinez, who had stated just that earlier in the meeting.

“We need a long-term commitment to our solid waste program and the parcel fee. This is appropriate [that] both of us help each other out. We’re willing to take a first step, [we could] use some reciprocity [with] the solid waste issue.”

After more discussion on this subject, Marysheva-Martinez said she believed the appropriate thing to do regarding the solid waste issue was to continue the work she and the county began last month, reassessing the needs of both governments.

“We meet again in June,” she said, referring to a town and county liaison group and adding that she would have many more details about the garbage issue available at that time. She said she would take the county’s concerns to the town council.

The county supervisors voted 4-1 (Fesko voted no, citing concerns that the agreement was “too vague”) to provide the town with “emergency and high priority” IT services, with a long-term contract to follow.

Supervisor Tim Alpers hailed the agreement.

“Our constituents have been screaming at us for decades to work together,” he said. “I think this is a great first step. The town and county have both made their mistakes; that’s water under the bridge. In some cases, that’s water in the Pacific Ocean, by now. There is going to be intense competition for resources in the future if we don’t start working together.”