In what could be construed as one of the few actual “restructuring” moves so far in the Town’s austerity process, Mammoth’s Town Council Wednesday night voted to approve drafting a resolution that would disband the Airport and Mobility commissions.
The decision was based on a pitch from Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht and Public Works Director Ray Jarvis to “achieve operational efficiencies and cost savings,” as described in the agenda item. “There is a lot of background work by staff that goes into preparing for and conducting a meeting,” Wilbrecht indicated, mentioning agenda preparation, gathering supporting documentation, finding out who will attend from the Commission members and the public, etc. The public might not be aware of it, and probably doesn’t really care, but it takes staff time and resources, he added.
Staff, he went on to say, is not trying to suggest that the commissions’ work isn’t important or that the commissioners don’t care. The proposal is purely about ways to save money and streamline the meeting process. Assuming Council passes the resolution at an upcoming meeting, both Mobility and Airport duties would be assigned principally to the Planning Commission, and to Council as deemed necessary.
The Planning Commission last year was given charge over the now defunct Public Arts Commission, which disbanded itself over disagreements, both internal and with staff, in the wake of the Town Gateway sign project. Currently, in its own efforts to cut costs, the Planning Commission meets once per month, as it has tried to do since even before last fall’s Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition Settlement.
In addition, Wilbrecht cited numerous meeting cancellations and hefty percentages of missed meetings by commissioners, posing the question of whether there is actually enough business to retain them. The Airport Commission recently completed submittal of the Airport Layout Plan (ALP) to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a major component of last year’s work program, he noted. According to Jarvis, the ALP is scheduled to be received from the consultant, signed by the Town and delivered to the FAA by the end of this week or early next week at the latest.
Meanwhile, the Mobility Commission held only four meetings last year, and is down to just three of five members, with not enough applicants to fill the vacancies and function with a full five members. He recommended forming ad hoc committees and task forces to accomplish some work in other ways, and with more short-term durations.
Airport Commission Chair Deb Pierrel said there had been “some unnecessary scheduling,” but insisted the commission had been “very proactive” when it came to cancelling meetings when warranted, and with enough advance notice. She pointed to “large and forefront projects and needs” at the Mammoth Yosemite Airport, though Wilbrecht said staff’s opinion is that terminal and runway expansion items are far enough off in the future that they aren’t immediate priorities.
No specific mention was made of a major discussion that was to be held as to potential use of several acres of land around the airport recently reacquired by the Town as part of the cancellation of the Hot Creek Development Agreement.
Airport Commissioner Lee Hughes suggested, as did Mobility Commission Chair Sandy Hogan, scheduling meetings on a quarterly or semi-annual basis until agenda items warrant more time. Subcommittees could be appointed to monitor ongoing work in the meantime. Hogan also asked Council to consider reformatting Mobility to just the three members (herself, Eric Wasserman and Lynda Salcido), making only two needed to have a quorum, instead of the mandatory three under a five-person makeup.
Hogan also explained her commission’s cancellations as cost-saving measures. “Almost two years ago, [then] Mayor Skip Harvey asked all commissions to consider how they might reduce impacts on staff time,” Hogan wrote in response. “In May 2011, the Mobility Commission formally adopted … guidelines to make meetings more efficient and effective. Guideline #5: “Schedule meetings monthly, but strive for quarterly. Do not hold a meeting if shown as ‘open’ with no urgent need to meet.” This, the guideline continued, would have the potential to save four meetings annually and related staff time.
Hogan went on to point out that Mobility operated for more than one year with four members and a vacancy, with no cancellations for lack of a quorum or agenda items. She also defended the 2012 schedule, saying the commission scheduled six meetings as “potentially open,” two of which were back up dates for pubic workshops, including one transit workshop for the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (ESTA). The Mobility Commission has served as ESTA’s de facto public forum in Mono County.
Councilmember Jo Bacon asked Hogan why the Planning Commission wouldn’t be able to do Mobility’s work. “[The Planning Commission] could take it on,” Hogan replied, “but you would be asking [planners] to pick up more things when they’ve been asked to scale back.”
During Council deliberation, however, Bacon opined that Blue Ribbon panels and ad hoc committees have worked before, adding that the Planning Commission already reviews plans and mobility as part of its regular duties. Councilmember Rick Wood focused on austerity, even though he said Council likes commission input. Councilmember John Eastman noted that Council has a presence on the ESTA Board, and sees no pressing airport work.
Councilmember Michael Raimondo agreed it is a “question of efficiencies,” adding that the ALP is a concern, but one that could be taken on by staff and Council. Mayor Matthew Lehman was also in favor of the austerity approach, but did praise the work of the commissions saying, “[They were] useful at a time when they were needed.” The vote to approve drafting the resolution was unanimous.
Mobility is expected to meet once more this month to conduct a transit workshop on Jan. 15. At that meeting, a discussion will also ensue as to how to hand off any work still pending. It’s uncertain as yet whether Airport will conduct its last meeting, scheduled for Jan. 22. Due to scheduled absences, Council will reconvene again in three weeks on Jan. 23.