Wednesday’s Mammoth Lakes Tourism board meeting saw Scott McGuire replaced as Chairman of the Board, and the board approve a 4-year contract for Executive Director John Urdi.
After the three new board members, Rhonda Duggan, Jeremy Goico, and Matt Hammer, introduced themselves, the board members gave their opening comments. John Morris took this opportunity to criticize Scott McGuire for his comments from the board’s June meeting.
“I just want to state for the record that, Scott, I disagree with the comments that were made at the end of the last meeting,” Morris said.
McGuire ended last month’s meeting with an invective on MLT’s lack of strategic vision. He said that the group is continuing to pour money into a strategy that it considers to have worked in the past without any reconsideration or forward thinking.
“We have kept doing the same thing, and we are spending the second largest budget in this community, without having a very clear, ‘this is our vision.’” McGuire said on June 5.
Morris’s issue with McGuire’s comments were that, “(MLT) staff got thrown under the bus.”
This criticism led right into a coup d’etat. Michael Ledesma nominated Morris to replace McGuire as board chair and nominated McGuire to become Vice Chair. The nomination was approved 4 votes to 3. Rhonda Duggan, Matt Hammer, and Cleland Hoff voted no, while Eric Clark, Jeremy Goico, Michael Ledesma, and John Morris voted yes. McGuire abstained from the vote, saying he felt uncomfortable voting for board chair while in the position of board chair.
“I serve at the will of the board,” he said.
Rhonda Duggan was voted board treasurer and Jeremy Goico board secretary.
McGuire’s fall from power continued as he opted to step down as MLT’s representative on the Mammoth Lakes Recreation (MLR) board. The board decided to replace him with Rhonda Duggan. While MLT currently has a seat on the MLR board, MLR Executive Director Matt McClain said at MLR’s Tuesday meeting that he doesn’t understand why MLT has that seat.
“Why are we holding a seat for MLT?” McClain said. “We don’t actually work a whole lot with MLT.” MLR plans to revisit the section of its bylaws that offers that seat to MLT.
The MLT board considered a new contract for its Executive Director John Urdi. It would be Urdi’s first new contract since joining MLT 8 years ago. Here are some of the finer points of the new contract:
-Base Salary of $206,685 in the first year, with a potential salary range between $161,000 and $221,000
-Potential for annual bonuses not exceeding 15% of base
-Salary not to be increased by more than 5% from year to year
-Signing bonus of $30,000
-6 month severance in case of termination without cause
-Benefits including family healthcare, 401(k), company vehicle, and family IKON and Snowcreek Golf Course passes.
-Employment period of four years, from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2023
The contract has not yet been approved by MLT’s attorney, Tim Sanford, who has been on vacation. The board opted to consider the contract anyway.
Mayor Cleland Hoff was the first to take issue with a feature of the contract.
“I really don’t get the signing bonus,” she said. “Maybe down the road if there were any changes to the position then that would make sense, but since we do have Mr. Urdi who’s already in the position…”
Michael Ledesma, who worked on drafting the contract, explained his reasoning for the bonus. “The bonus there was a way to encourage the incumbent to not look at other positions and to stay and to sign on for a length of time longer than short term.” He said that these bonuses are common in athlete contracts, and, extending this analogy, he said that MLT has a winning team and it wants to keep its “players.”
Hoff also said that the 6 month severance package was, “pretty hefty.” Scott McGuire clarified that this severance would only be triggered for termination without cause, which would only likely occur if MLT decided it was going to “fold or walk away.” Termination with cause would trigger no severance.
Eric Clark, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area representative on the board, pointed out that the data that the board used to inform this contract showed that 50% of polled comparable executives have a 6 month or longer severance.
Hoff said, “If anybody on the town government had a six month clause, everybody in this room would be up in arms.”
John Morris, who also worked to draft this contract, voiced his support for it. He said that 6 month severance is appropriate when the termination is not due to any fault of the Executive Director. He also defended the compensation package.
He said, “(Urdi) is very qualified to do what he does and he does a very good job. Finding someone to do that job as well as he does it currently at less than or equal to what we are proposing here would be difficult.”
Scott McGuire voiced his issues with this contract, and in doing so, defended and reiterated his controversial comments from last meeting.
He opened with, “Here is where I think we have a lack of strategy.” McGuire compared Urdi to Bend, Oregon’s former Tourism Director Doug La Placa.
“You can go back and look at the history of La Placa’s time in Bend, and it looks like you were reading out of The Sheet coverage of MLT from the last five years.”
“My concern is that in four years we will have an airport in Bishop, we will see the $2 million in airport subsidy go to Bishop… I don’t believe that we have the majority of TBID providers in town saying they would sign up for a second time.”
“I’m not sitting here celebrating how we’ve been winning. I am trying to think about how we are going to get kicked in the shins and lose. And I don’t think we’ve addressed that as a group and I don’t think our Executive Director has planned for that.”
He said that Measure A revenues could also decrease in the next four years.
“So we don’t get a TBID, we have a smaller Measure A, and we don’t have a tourism pot that is $8 or $9 million, we end up with $2 or $3 million.” He continued the cautionary tale of Bend. “This happened in Bend,” he said. “They had a $10 million tourism subsidy. They had the attitude of, we’re winning, we’re doing great. You know what happened? Their Executive Director got run out of town. They lost millions of dollars out of their TBID. Their current Executive Director gets a $97,000 a year salary. They have 7 full-time employees. They don’t use outside contractors. Their entire creative is done in house. They lost 70% of their budget.”
“And you know what? They’re still growing. In fact, they’re growing at the same rate we are.”
McGuire concluded with, “Should we keep doing the same thing over and over again? I have an issue with writing a contract that is effectively a million dollars over four years without having a really clear vision on how that is going to show up for this community… This contract and this agreement with our executive director doesn’t have my support.”
He said he wants employees to be reviewed on an annual basis and he does not support the $30,000 signing bonus, no matter how it is justified.
Rhonda Duggan was the third board member to express her disapproval with some features of the contract.
“I’m not comfortable with the signing bonus whether you call it a signing bonus or a retention bonus,” she said.
She also had a problem with the fact that MLT bonuses go disproportinately to Urdi.
“I would like to see the team that helped get us here weigh in on some bonuses as well.”
According to its website, MLT has 7 full-time employees.
“Bonuses for just one person within the organization, I know what that would tell me if I was an employee.”
The contract went to a vote. Cleland Hoff, Scott McGuire and Rhonda Duggan voted no. Eric Clark, John Morris, Michael Ledesma, Jeremy Goico, and Matt Hammer all voted yes. The contract passed 5 votes to 3 pending final legal approval from Tim Sanford.