New Mayor confronts same old demons
Last week, Mammoth Lakes installed its newest Mayor, Matthew Lehman, to lead Town Council. His tenure begins at a crossroads, the intersection of Bankruptcy Blvd. and Recovery Rd.
Lehman, who was born in Los Angeles, but essentially grew up in the community of Mammoth in the ‘70s, long before it formally became a town, could well begin the road to recovery by presiding over Chapter 9 Municipal Bankruptcy proceedings, and has already been involved in ongoing mediation with various creditors.
“The Town has scheduled a special meeting on Monday, July 2, to report on the outcomes of the AB 506 mediation, which is scheduled to conclude this Friday,” Lehman told The Sheet in a statement. “The Town will evaluate its options during that meeting, and make a decision based on the information available to us at the time. We have invited Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition (MLLA) to the mediation, again, and would like to work something out with them. We hope this will be possible and that bankruptcy won’t be necessary.”
(According to a Town Press Release issued Wednesday, “Regrettably … the Town’s largest creditor, MLLA, has refused to participate in the mediation, despite the Town’s multiple invitations.”)
In an interview with The Sheet, Lehman stated he sees this as but half of his top priority as Mammoth’s Mayor – the first Mayor, says Coldwell Bamker’s Sheryl Saari, who actually grew up here. According to Lehman, resolution of the MLLA judgment against the town (now at about $44 million) is running parallel with his ideas for economic recovery, and pulling the town out of an economic downturn he’s certain its residents would have been affected by with or without the MLLA/Hot Creek Development lawsuit.
“Even without the lawsuit, we’d still have had to cut $2.8 million from this coming fiscal year’s budget,” he related. “If we hadn’t had the lawsuit, we’d have more resources to dedicate to a recovery, but we need to stop placing blame. People like to think it’s due to a mistake someone made in the past. One of my friends said he still wants a ‘pie chart of blame.’ I think it’s just the economy in general. MMSA is going through the same thing.”
Lehman said a lot of the problem has been addressed, but cautioned that time is valuable and he would rather focus on problem solving, especially getting the economy jumpstarted and back on track. A driving force on the Town’s Economic Stimulus Council, he is considering a proposal to make the Stimulus Council a subset or official committee of Town Council. “We need to make economic development part of Council, or perhaps adding it to Community Development.”
His “Best Summer Ever” (BSE) marketing concept is admittedly a short term goal, but one he thinks will set off a chain reaction of positive messaging to promote business retention and new business startups. “These are action items, ready for implementation. It’s not just talk.” Job growth is another essential that “BSE” can help provide.
“We don’t need to wait for jobs to show up, we need to be proactive and go out and find them,” he suggested. “And we’ve been clamoring for an events venue for years. I don’t see incentives and streamlining permitting as giving away the farm; that’s how things work in the real world. We need to control what we want our town to look like instead of having it dictated to us.”
One thing he’s not convinced of is that the town should be back under Mono County auspices again. Remembering what Mammoth was like prior to incorporation, Lehman recalled there was “good and bad” that came before and after becoming a Town.
“Before we were a Town, snow removal frequently took a long time,” he explained. “There are, however, unintended consequences of going back to the County. We can have a better vision and more control of our tax dollars by staying a Town.”
Another thing he’s not keen on is government process. “I don’t think we need another layer of government,” Lehman opined. “Yes, I’m involved in politics, but I’m not a big fan of process. People need to have control of their government, not the other way around.”
That said, however, Lehman said he’s got “a lot of confidence” in his fellow Councilmembers, staff and the Town’s management. “We all bring something to the table, and occasionally butt heads, but we are all working toward the same goals.”
He praised the work being done by Mammoth Lakes Tourism Director John Urdi, pointing out that he’s constantly trying to think of new and fresh ways to market Mammoth and get messaging out. One recent accomplishment: better symbiosis and integrated messaging between the Town and Mono County.
Lehman also thinks Assistant Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez is “absolutely the right person” to navigate turbulent financial seas. “We’d be in a far inferior position without her,” he said. “She’s direct, and I like that … give me the bad news, tell me where we’re going wrong, let’s deal with it. Don’t pander to Council and tell us what we want to hear. That’s been a problem for past Councils.”
In the private sector, Lehman wants to “capture and capitalize.” He wants to continue identifying and building on the area’s strengths, such as Mammoth’s growing reputation as a high-altitude training Mecca. This year, with the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, many U.S. Olympians have been training in the area, including marathoners Meb Keflezhigi and Amy Hastings, and shorter distance runners Alistair Cragg and Morgan Uceny, as well as members of the Austrailian and British Olympic teams, among numerous other athletic organizations and schools.
The Nike Outpost, which had a successful stay in Mammoth last summer, is set to return this year, and Lehman is hopeful a long term relationship will emerge that could lead to building a full-time facility here and generate job opportunities.
Community benefits aren’t off his radar, but need to be sustained by revenue generation that should ideally be horse before cart. “We need to bring in revenue that will generate dollars for things that cost money and don’t generate money, but that we need and are legitimate community benefits.”
Mammoth’s Town Council will meet in open session on Monday, July 2, starting at 9 a.m. in Suite Z. Check here for any late-breaking updates.