With apologies to Wallace Shawn …
Eighteen years covering the Eastern Sierra and I’ve never seen anything like it.
At its September 28 regular meeting, a majority of Bishop City Council indicated its support to scrap a lucrative retirement benefit for City Councilmembers that currently costs the city $40,000 annually.
The issue was raised by Councilman Stephen Muchovej, who is concerned about the overhang of Bishop’s future debt obligation to city employees.
As it currently stands, if a person has 8 years tenure on Bishop’s Council and is 65 years old, he/she is eligible to retire with health benefits … for life.
For the Coumcilmember and a spouse or dependents (if applicable). Bishop pays 90% of health, 100% of dental and also has a life insurance benefit.
Councilmembers Muchovej, Ellis and Schwartz are in favor of eliminating the benefit.
As Ellis said during Council deliberations, “It amounts to an incredible benefit for a part-time job.” A job, he said, that’s supposed to be about community service and volunteerism.
From Karen Schwartz: This doesn’t fit with the times anymore. The price tag is astronomical. We can’t ask the taxpayer in good conscience to support this.
Outgoing Mayor Laura Smith, who is not running for reelection and is grandfathered in to receive this benefit, defended the perk this way. She said that while she served on Council, she appreciated the idea of this future benefit because it allowed her to juggle her schedule and offload some other work responsibilities to focus on city business when necessary because she knew she was ultimately being compensated for her time.
“This job is a big commitment,” chimed in Councilman Chris Costello. “The benefits don’t merit the work and time it takes.”
Costello, who, like Ellis, is running for reelection, felt it was unfair to change the rules in the middle of a campaign.
The inference being that some may have decided to run for office based upon the salary
and benefits currently in place.
At the very least, he thinks those running for office during this election cycle should be grandfathered in to qualify for the existing retirement benefit.
Costello has served nearly three years on Council to date, having been appointed to fill out Pat Gardner’s term and then winning a subsequent two-year term in 2018. He would qualify for the lifetime retirement health benefit if he wins two more elections. The city currently pays about $30,000/year in health premiums for Costello’s family.
Councilman Muchovej said, this isn’t about the downturn as an isolated event. It’s more about the city’s future solvency down the road. And it’s about intention. Muchovej believes taking away the financial perks emphasizes the motivation to run for Council as an act of service.
Muchovej’s related concern: By offering such a generous retirement benefit (which only kicks in after age 65 with at least eight years service) “Are we encouraging older people to run [to access] an older-persons benefit?”
*The implication being this is the perfect job to run for if you’re 57!
Costello noted that this is simply a Council decision that could be reversed at some future date.
Council is expected to vote on the elimination of the retirement benefit at its October 26 meeting.
In the state of the city report presented at the Bishop Council’s October 13 meeting, slides tucked at the end of the presentation (and conveneniently not discussed by Council), showed that the unfunded debt obligation to employees and retirees now stands at $6 million, up from $4.6 million circa 2014-2015. The trend line is not pointing in a favorable direction.
We don’t normally publish news regarding DUI arrests in this paper, mostly because it would be unfair to publish the arrest without also following up on the disposition and we’re not staffed to adequately keep tabs on that court process.
But … it is election season, candidates are public figures and if such an arrest comes to our attention, the electorate should have the opportunity to consider it as a factor in their decision-making,
Mammoth Lakes Town Council candidate Cyndi Myrold was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving on July 30.
When contacted by The Sheet about it, she did not duck the issue.
“I’m totally embarrassed by it,” she said. “It’s my first DUI, at 56. I almost didn’t pull papers because of it … I made a mistake and I own it. I hope the community can forgive me.”
Myrold said she will learn from it, that it won’t happen again, and that it would not affect her job performance if elected.
The Sheet spoke to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area CEO Mark Brownlie on Wednesday regarding an update on MMSA’s presence in the Village at Mammoth.
While MMSA continues to lease commercial space for three mountain-owned and operated restaurants (Campo, 53 and Sushi Rei) as well as a daycare facility, Brownlie said MMSA chose not to renew leases for two locations which had housed a coffee shop and a retail store.
The future is vague, said Brownlie, and our embrace of the vague is to approach cautiously. “For us, it’s figuring out how to sustain operations,” he said.
The Mountain’s retail operations will be consolidated in the space it owns underneath the gondola.
The hot rumor is that Michael Ledesma and Russ Squier, owners of Gomez Restaurant and Tequileria and Hugs Ice Cream in the Village, are interested in leasing the coffee shop space, located across the way from Lakanuki. Efforts to confirm the rumor were unsuccessful.
The Village’s commercial vacancy rate is currently more than 20%.
For those interested in a further update from Mammoth Mountain, MMSA is hosting a community conversatioon via Zoom on Monday. For more information, see page 15.
For those who speculate about my humanity (or lack thereof), let me share a conversation via text I had this week with reporter Owen Page. Setting the stage, Owen was asking if he could come down to Bishop and “borrow” from my woodpile.
Lunch: Weekend probably better at this point. I can throw a few sticks in the truck tomorrow to get you through a few days …
Page: For sure. I’ve got a bit here [at the condo] as well so I’m not likely to freeze to death.
Lunch: It’s okay if you freeze to death but not until we’re past deadline.
Page: Okay, I’ll try to time that one out.
Lunch: That’s what I like about you, Owen. You’re considerate.
Page: I would never inconvenience you with my death, Ted. That would be worse than the actual act of dying.
Speaking of reporters, Zachary Hite has flown the coop. His ultimate goal: he wishes to become a professional sports gambler. I told him he didn’t need to move away to become a professional gambler – he could just open a restaurant in Mammoth instead. He demurred.
I say this as preface to reporting on The Parcel community meeting, which took place via Zoom on Tuesday evening.
FYI, This story continues to page six, where we show two graphics from The Pacific Companies (the project developer) PowerPoint presentation. One graphic illustrates the proposed sites of the six building phases. The other gives a breakdown of building type and capacity.
What I learned: Mammoth Planning and Economic Development Commissioner Amy Callanan casually referenced a 20-year phasing process. Wow. You think Grady Dutton will still be mooching off the taxpayer as a “special consultant” by then? Mr. Dutton was not on the call Tuesday. Why? Because he’s not needed.
Dutton’s consultancy strikes me as a reward or incentive in exchange for his official retirement as a Town employee.
Andrea Clark of The Pacific Companies was asked when the earliest occupancy date might be for phase one. She said financing applications will be submitted March, 2021. If the applications are successful, infrastructure and the “podium” for Building A-1 could be completed this year, allowing Pacific to “go vertical” and build apartments for occupancy by late 2022. She acknowledged this as a “shoot for the moon” aggressive timeline.
Molly DesBaillets of the Mono County Office of Education expressed gratitude that a 7,000-square foot childcare center is included in phase one plans. She said the Town’s current childcare is double its capacity, or 270 slots.
The Sheet spoke with Clark post-meeting about the childcare center. She said the key challenge is finding an operator, and while there have been promising conversations with IMACA (Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action), Mono County Office of Education and the Town, the center is just an apple in the mind’s eye until an operator takes the lead – and the risk.
“We haven’t started the conversation with MMSA [as a possible operator],” said Clark, “But would they operate something for more than just their employees?”
If you’re using public infrastructure dollars to pay for the project, allowing a private business to operate (and lease) 7,000-square feet of public space for its own use would be problematic.
If no operator steps forward, Clark says Pacific would still move forward and build the empty shell, but “we are designing it [the building] to exist.”
In terms of the overall project, Clark said “Phasing allows us to address issues as they arise.” The goal as the project evolves over time: continued conversation and input from the community, as impacts can be addressed in a phased manner as well.
It’s not like the project will be dropped whole onto the ground all at once.