Who knew that Jennifer Roeser’s principal contribution to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors when she joined the board in January, 2021 would be her ability to galvanize public interest over what had been heretofore rather dull, routine board proclamations.
On Tuesday, the Inyo Board of Supervisors voted to recognize June as “Pride” month for the local LGBTQ+ community. There were approximately 100 public comments during the three-hour hearing.
Public comment ran about 2-1 in favor of recognizing Pride month.
Those Supervisors voting in favor were Jeff Griffiths, Dan Totheroh and Matt Kingsley.
Supervisor Rick Pucci was reportedly sick and didn’t attend the meeting. He also apparently didn’t have the strength to monitor a Zoom feed and vote on the hot-button issue.
Inyo CAO Leslie Chapman said it was just the second meeting Pucci has missed in his entire tenure.
Supervisor Jennifer Roeser didn’t vote either. She abstained.
Among the seven Supervisorial candidates running for Districts 1 and 3 in the upcoming election, District 3 Candidate Todd Vogel was the only one who bothered to weigh in. He was in support of the declaration, saying diversity makes us stronger.
As Supervisor Kingsley said in his remarks, our country is evolving on issues. He said he looks forward to the day we don’t need proclamations, “but this is how we evolve. By recognizing biases …. My job is to represent my constituents and my conscience. All we’re doing is recognizing people who are different.”
Kingsley talked about a similar evolution he had in regard to veterans. His family does not have a military background and has not been personally affected by war, but when a kid he coached was killed in Afghanistan, it brought it home for him.
And that was a persistent theme on Tuesday – how interconnected we all are, even if it’s not immediately obvious. That the LGBTQ+ community is serving you, helping you, providing for you every day in all manner of fields and services. As Fran Hunt said, “We are your neighbors, your family, your co-workers, your friends, and members of your congregations.”
As Robert Amundson said, “Be careful whom you hate, because it might be someone you love.”
This did not assuage opponents of the proclamation, who objected on grounds ranging from the religious to the procedural to the comparative – “Why are we giving LGBTQ+ a month when Indigenous Peoples only got a day?” asked Michelle Mulligan rhetorically.
Lynette McIntosh wanted a proclamation for a “pro-life” month.
On the procedural front, many complained about Jeff Griffiths’ status as a board member of Eastern Sierra Pride and said he shouldn’t be able to vote on the item.
County Counsel John Vallejo said Griffiths was eligible to vote because he did not stand to benefit financially from his vote.
On the religious front, Mary Matlick cited First Corinthians and said that while she loves her neighbor, “I won’t celebrate a lifestyle that is unrighteous.”
Eddie Davis read a letter on behalf of the Bishop Ministerial Assn., which stated that the LGBTQ+ community “needs counseling – not a sexual party.”
Mark Walker felt that no one group should be raised above another, and added, “I don’t believe this group [LGBTQ+] is as oppressed as they say they are.”
Walker later stormed out of the meeting, claiming the Zoom feed was being rigged to cut away from certain folks making public comment.
More powerful, however, were the stories of locals who felt they had to hide their true selves because of sexual orientation.
Steve Mobley of Lone Pine talked about how tough it was to be a gay man in Inyo County, and said he never dared to hold his late husband’s hand while they were out in public. Younger people have that now, he said, thanks to public awareness and proclamations like these.
Ann Strong said she didn’t feel safe here thirty years ago, but feels safer now.
Another resident, Jeanette Donovan, who moved to the area a year ago demurred. “My friends asked ‘Can you be safe there?’ [when told she was moving to Bishop]. And I took that for granted. I said yes. But there’s a lot that’s been giving me pause.”
Parents of members of the LGBTQ+ community stood up to be counted, including Philip Anaya and Virginia Thorsen and Zach Smith and Carma Roper.
As Roper said, when her daughter told her she was dating another girl, her response was, “Fine. Just don’t date a jerk.” This elicited some rare laughter.
Cherish Hegi’s daughter Keyara Weaver spoke before the board. She’s a senior at BUHS. Hegi spoke afterwards, and said, “I’m proud I raised a daughter strong enough to stand up.”
Oneida Walters tried to assuage opponents of the proclamation, saying, “No one’s shoving rainbows in your face … It’s gonna be okay.”
During board deliberation, when it became clear the proclamation had the votes, Supervisor Roeser said, “It might be best to just move on at this point.”
She did add that breaking down populations into smaller entities/interest groups is inherently divisive. And then insisted that she is “not a politician.”
A person who came down from Mono County to observe had the following reaction to the “not a politician” comment.
“To call your fellow Supervisors ‘politicians’ and to say, ‘I’m not a politician’ is ridiculous. She is an elected official, so it’s time to be one. And abstaining instead of voting is just chicken. The other three spoke in ways that showed they were representing the public. She only talked about herself.”
The first-ever Eastern Sierra Pride Festival will be held at the Tri-County Fairgrounds on June 4-5.
Inyo Supervisors must have been super-jealous of Mammoth Lakes Tourism for floating a TBID increase because they discussed a potential TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) increase, an elimination of the “operator allowance” for lodging owners and a potential expansion of the TOT pool to include campgrounds and RV Parks after the Pride agenda item was completed on Tuesday.
*As preface, the “operator allowance” was initially put in place to compensate lodging owners for the time and paperwork involved in TOT compliance. It amounts to a return of 4% of the 12% to owners, or $0.48 cents per $100.
Inyo County currently has a 12% TOT rate. Treasure/Tax Collector Alisha McMurtrie said a 2% increase in that rate could bring in an extra $500,000/year. Inyo County currently collects about $3 million annually in TOT. A whopping 94% of that $3 million is collected out of District Five, which includes Death Valley and Lone Pine.
Death Valley National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds said Park visitation has doubled within the past ten years, from one million to two million visitors. Indications are that this growth will continue, while services/resources remain constant.
The City of Bishop is its own separate entity and not included in the above figures.
District Five lodging owners reacted lukewarmly, at best, to McMurtrie’s presentation. All urged more time and study.
Travis Powell, owner of the Best Western in Lone Pine, suggested that if you’re gonna have a tax hike, then the county government should also return more of those dollars to District Five to address infrastructure issues – particularly housing. One of his children has a teacher who commutes daily from Ridgecrest. And that teacher is likely to quit and teach elsewhere as a result.
Spencer McNeal, who owns a resort in Tecopa, thinks the timing of a tax increase and the potential discontinuation of the operator allowance comes at a rough time when inflation is soaring.
Inyo CAO Leslie Chapman described the agenda item as an “introduction” and said further community outreach/meetings are planned.