The Mammoth Lakes Recreation Steering Committee continued its consideration of the formation of a Mammoth Lakes Recreation (MLR) entity on Monday, Aug. 5 in the second of three workshops. The intent of the Steering Committee is to assess whether the Town needs the MLR, to more successfully fulfill the recreational needs of the community, or whether the current municipal recreation structure may be enhanced to fulfill those needs instead.
Mayor Rick Wood opened the meeting by quoting from a recent letter penned by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to the Town of Mammoth regarding the formation of the MLR. The letter alleged that the MLR would be “ill-advised, illegal and not in the community’s interest.”
These allegations were a direct response to Mayor Wood’s “recent statements supporting privatization (outsourcing) of the town’s recreation services,” the letter stated, to the non-governmental organization (NGO) that could be MLR. The AFSCME argued that such a privatization would limit input from the public, raise the price of services, replace jobs currently held by Town employees, and cede control of recreation facilities and services to a private vendor.
The letter concluded that the MLR would also, above all, be illegal: “California statutes and the state Constitution sharply limit the authority of general law municipalities (such as Mammoth Lakes) to contract out services performed by public employees. These issues have been clarified by a 1993 state Attorney General’s opinion and by the state courts in 2011 and 2012.”
Mayor Rick Wood characterized the letter as a threat to litigate. “I don’t think we need to be guided by the AFSCME,” he said.
Strategic Marketing Group workshop leader Carl Ribaudo and Michael Ward, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for HighBar Global Consulting, were quick to douse the flames. Ribaudo pointed out that the question he posed to the Steering Committee was not ‘what’ the MLR would be, as though the MLR was already a done deal, but ‘why’ the Town might need the MLR at all, with the possibility at the conclusion of the third workshop that the Committee will conclude the MLR isn’t necessary.
However, because the MLR has yet to be defined, perception of the MLR varies from an entity that would take over tasks not currently performed by the Recreation Department, to an entity that might more strategically utilize funds, to an entity that might replace the Recreation Department altogether. Recreation Manager Stu Brown voiced his own hope that any MLR created would work together with the Recreation Commission “to elevate and improve recreation.” He added, “There shouldn’t be a winner or loser. What the stakeholders are discussing is what will be better for the community.”
To that end, Ward had Steering Committee members partner up to pose and answer questions about the gaps they had identified at the first meeting in areas like activities and programs, funding, and resources and facilities.
Partners, including representatives of Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation, Mammoth Lakes Foundation, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the U.S. Forest Service, Friends of the Inyo, Mammoth Lakes Town Council, Recreation Commission, and Planning and Economic Development Commission, produced a series of questions. These included how Mammoth can maximize its investment in existing facilities, how future investments can include a component for maintenance, how to create shoulder season events, how to balance the needs of residents and the needs of visitors, how to create the most efficient management system, and how to foster an atmosphere of performance accountability.
Even in light of the gaps these questions sought to address, Recreation Commission Chair Bill Sauser argued that the Town already has a long list of achievements. He pointed to rough pie charts of Measure R & U awarded funds put together by Strategic Marketing Group, noting that the largest percent of funds has been awarded to trails and the track, followed by events. “We really haven’t screwed up,” he said.
Ribaudo agreed. “In the teeth of recession, you built yourself a trail system and a track, as well as a lot of other things,” he said. “Not bad.”
Ward concluded the workshop by guiding Steering Committee members through an exercise to assign criteria to any recommendation they might put before the Council. Criteria fell into the categories of “Should Not,” “Should,” and “Must.” For instance, a recommendation to the Council “must” take into account an option that would “be all inclusive of sports and recreational users, to the extent that this is practical.”
Recreation Commission Vice Chair Teri Stehlik summed up the sentiment of many of the workshop participants, who in considering an MLR are looking at a potential change from the methods of what she characterized as nostalgic days-gone-by. “The good old days are right now,” she said, quoting Dave McCoy. “How do you see opportunity instead of hindrance?”
The final MLR workshop is scheduled for Aug. 19 in Suite Z at 3:30 p.m.