‘Politics isn’t fair’
MLR moves from vision towards reality.
After a year of discussion, Mammoth Lakes Recreation (MLR), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that will outsource some tasks currently performed by Municipal Recreation, will become a reality by October of this year. MLR is to begin its transition from concept to reality after a unanimous vote by Town Council to support the non-profit entity’s creation.
MLR will have a $1.8 million annual budget supplied by Measures R and U, and will be funded from Measure R revenues, with a projected overhead of 15 to 20 percent.
Council’s approval allows for the continued suspension of the Measure R and U funding allocation process, which MLR will take over, as well as the transition of Mammoth Lakes Trail System Coordinating Committee (MLTSCC) and Measure U Committee functions to the MLR Transition Board; the re-definition of the Mammoth Recreation Commission roles and responsibilities; and the preparation of an amendment to the Measure R Expenditure Plan that will allow the Town to assign Measure R funds to cover MLR administrative costs, and MLR to administer the remainder of Measure R.
MLR Formation Committee Chair Danna Stroud explained the next steps for MLR, including the creation of a Transition Board and permanent MLR Board.
The Transition Board will include MLR Standing and Formation Committee members John Armstrong, Jo Bacon, Colin Fernie, Teri Stehlik, Danna Stroud, Betsy Truax, Rick Wood, and John Urdi.
The Transition Board will continue work on contract negotiations, develop a draft working plan and budget, and hire additional staff. The permanent Board will be elected in October.
According to the proposed Bylaws, this permanent Board will consist of nine Directors. One will be appointed from Town Council, another from Mammoth Lakes Tourism (MLT), and the other seven positions will be at-large. Six of the nine board members must reside in Mammoth Lakes.
Board Directors will represent recreation, retailers, users, organizers, promoters, manufacturers, and others with interests in Mammoth Lakes recreation. Directors will be nominated through an open process and will serve two-year terms.
MLR will be led by an Executive Director and Recreation/Trails Coordinator, Stroud said. The Executive Director will earn a salary between $90,000-$110,000, plus benefits of approximately 17 percent of base salary. The Recreation Coordinator will have a salary between $40,000-$50,000, plus benefits of 17 percent of base salary.
Formation Committee member Betsy Truax stressed that the goal will be to get MLR revenue-neutral within the next three to five years.
Comments from the public regarding MLR were tentatively supportive. Resident Sharon Clark argued that the public was not sufficiently involved enough in the first three MLR Steering Committee meetings late last year, which did much to determine the scope and aim of MLR. But Sandy Hogan argued that “there have been huge improvements in the public process” since she and others complained at the first several Steering Committee meetings.
In spite of this, Hogan urged Council not to dissolve MLTSCC and the Measure U Committee prior to finalizing MLR’s bylaws, contract, Board, and staff. “Finish the formation and get the draft documents together,” she urged. “This could be a great thing, but right now, it’s really vague.”
Recreation Commissioner Pat Agnitch voiced the concerns of many members of the public during the MLR formation process, that the intent of Measure R was not to cover the startup of an NGO.
“Think about the intent of the voters,” she said. “Did they really expect that R money would be spent primarily on administrative costs?”
Agnitch noted that with $300,000 of Measure R already annually allocated to trails, and about $300,000 needed for overhead, “That doesn’t leave much money for the work ahead.”
“There are still so many unanswered questions,” she concluded. “Would you spend your personal funds to establish an organization like this, that doesn’t have a business plan, that doesn’t have a budget or specific tasks and deliverables? Would a bank give a loan? … I know these things are forthcoming, but that’s what keeps being mentioned; that these things are forthcoming.”
Although Mayor Rick Wood listened respectfully to these comments, he had little patience for concerns voiced by Council candidate Karen Sibert via email. Sibert argued that the draft bylaws would allow MLR Board members to seek compensation for their work, a claim Town Attorney Andy Morris quickly debunked.
“No member would be able to be compensated,” he said.
Sibert also argued that there was not sufficient community engagement with the MLR decision, and thus, “voters are greatly uninformed on the fate of their public monies.”
Mayor Wood pointed out the many public meetings that led to the formation of MLR, beginning late last year and continuing to May of this year (17 total). He also noted that community comments had been acknowledged and “in some instances were excellent, and changed the end product.”
“The problem is, [MLR] has become politicized, because we’re in an election season, and we have a candidate out there who has staked her election on opposition to MLR,” Wood continued. “What I saw from Karen Sibert, which was pretty much beaten back factually, is something that I would expect during the election season … I saw Karen once [at an MLR meeting], at the very end, and only for 30 minutes .. and she is not here tonight.”
“I would, as Councilmembers, discount that letter,” he concluded.
Pat Agnitch rose up in Sibert’s defense. “To suggest that Karen’s comments should be disregarded, it’s really public freedom of speech,” she said. “I think that isn’t fair.”
“Politics isn’t fair,” Mayor Wood replied.