Bureaucrat Beat: Feet on Fire, Compromised Comment and A Letter

Big hint for locally elected officials. Your constituents love (we’re talking way beyond mere like) to have your feet held to the fire. For the great masses, accountability ranks as a number one political desire. Enter Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce. As we had reported, members of that group said to themselves that they did not go along with many things in town government, so how about a report card on government performance? Town officials swooped in and said, that’s too negative and we can’t give you public funds to do work for us if you are a political organization.

The other night, the two sides sat down to talk. Observers said the dull hum of the conversation forced them to go home, have a glass of wine and watch the Council meeting on TV, with cynical disappointment and a few sarcastic guffaws.

Chamber official, Dawn Vereuck, brought up the accountability thing when she said business owners have watched the Town hire more and more people and spend more and more tax money with no discernible difference in service to the public.

While few really give a darn spit about the issues on this, some told us that they see the Town’s pressure to silence the Chamber as a “cheap shot” to control public discontent.

Some Council members seemed to think the whole thing was about the Chamber’s wish for public funds.

Whatever the motivations, folks who called us remained offended at the hint that the Town Council might try to slide out from under the microscope of public scrutiny.

For public officials who are interested in their accountability, here’s more. We have also heard from people in Mammoth Lakes that the huge fires in Inyo and closure of the highway remained mostly a mystery to folks, except for Bob Todd’s live radio broadcasts. Many wondered why Town officials didn’t get engaged and help visitors to Mammoth figure out how to navigate the fire disaster and the closed highway. Hello? Anyone home?

Forget bureaucrats, count on Bob Todd.

Okay. Now we must give Mammoth its due, at least for now. The Town announced that they would host what they call neighborhood coffees in the Old Mammoth Road area, Monday at Sherwin’s at 2pm.

The press release said that the “conversation” will be structured around the “World Caf” model that encourages “open and aspirational dialogue on the past, present and future of the Old Mammoth Road District.”

Other neighborhood coffees will follow will follow to develop District Plans in the town. The way it works – tables of four people talk and listen and then as a whole group – talk and listen. Seems they did this in San Francisco, ala the City-By-The-Bay-Style. You know, closed off a whole city block, set up caf tables and yaked. Local officials said this was a great success. Will it work in Mammoth? Well, we do have trolleys – that’s close to cable cars.

On the national political scene, to show how far the Bush Administration has plummeted from the Olympian Throne, a local Inyo County Republican said of President Bush, “Oh, no one pays any attention to him anymore.” Then, the registered Republican said, “And, I voted for him.”

Back home in the Sierra, whatever happened to those 12 disputes under the Inyo-LA Water Agreement? In fact, we were told that Inyo had found more than a dozen violations of the agreement by DWP.

Let’s flash back to the supervisorial election a few years back. The candidates who won – Jim Bilyeu, Richard Cervantes and Susan Cash all vowed that they would enforce the water agreement. There’s that darned accountability thing, again.

While we’re on a roll we might as well put the icing on the accountability cake.

Tony Barrett of Mammoth Lakes, a former Councilmember and current Planning Commissioner, wrote an open letter to the community about ranking or grading the current Town Council. Here it is:

The following, writes Barrett, is an open letter to the community in the form of a response from the 100’s of comments and questions I have been receiving from my constituencies in Mammoth Lakes regarding the current Town Council.

As a permanent resident of the Town of Mammoth Lakes, I have cast my vote over the years for various candidates desiring to become Council Members. The process I would use is not a particularly difficult one, but I tried to stay consistent.

First I look for true leadership qualities such as:

  1. An ability and desire to listen to all segments of our community and to hear them.
  2. A truthful understanding of common sense by the candidate that would filter out extreme positions when it comes to setting policy and achieving our town vision.
  3. The ability to hold the Town Staff (Town Manger & Department Heads) accountable for the smooth and efficient operation of daily town business.
  4. The will and ability to make timely decisions and to lead by example.
  5. Being accountable to the citizens of Mammmoth Lakes for their actions or in-actions.
  6. And most important – the understanding that protection of our communities health and safety is always our first priority.

The typical voting citizens in Mammoth Lakes is either a hard-working person in the labor force, a government employee, a business owner, a retiree or a combination of the aforementioned. We elect a council to oversee the daily business of running our town, approve budgets, set policy and make the myriad of hard decisions that allow our town to function properly while striving to achieve a sustainable future. The level of efficiency achieved by any council and its members is ultimately the measure of their success.

Should we (my constituencies and myself) be giving this current council leadership a “Report Card” grade, it would have to be a charitable D.

The isolate individual members would be pointless at this time. Our council is made up of 5 individuals of which only 3 are needed ro make a majority. Over the past year a lack of leadership and guidance has resulted in governance by wondering and wandering, with marathon council meetings and lack of decisions. Community members are just plain tired of the antics of the current council and have given up the desire to participate any longer. Anyone can run a meeting. Our community desires and deserves leadership whom can bring an issue forward, obtain timely community input from constituencies, gain consensus by majority vote and achieve implementation of the issue. This is what we expect and deserve from our policymakers. If a candidate has portrayed these qualities to gain election then failed on the dais, they are failing the community’s trust.

Even the simple process of “common sense” has eluded our current council. The current council cites as reasons for not making timely decisions (refer to the council meetings of June 2007) “a flawed process, ” need for more participatory government”, “stepping down and not voting for reasons the public feels are questionable reasons even though the councilmember is not in direct financial conflict”, “not voting until everybody is happy”, need I go on?

At the end of the day, an excuse is still an excuse and leadership fails with excuses. Our community is a small town community where each and everyone of us connects at some point with one another. I and my constituencies have had enough with the “pockets full of excuses” we have had to endure from the current council of failed leadership.

We feel it is time for an elected and salaried full-time Mayor that understand and would meet and adhere to at least the 6 qualities listed in the first paragraph of this letter.

Tony Barrett
Mammoth Lakes


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