“What a mess. A total mess.” That’s what Mammoth Town Councilman Skip Harvey said of the situation in Mammoth after hearing the Assistant Town Manager explain a budget restructuring plan with $3 million more in proposed cuts and after hearing a dozen citizens make a plea to preserve funding of marketing. Harvey fell short of naming names but made it clear that the airport manager and a councilman made arrogance a town problem. He implied it has been a chronic problem. Harvey was the only one at the Council meeting who sharply addressed the awful $43 million debt owed to MLLA.
For weeks, Mammoth officials have said they would tell the public what was going on with a budget crisis and with the MLLA debt. At each meeting, they continued to fall short of talking about the status of the MLLA problem and what would happen if the town had to declare bankruptcy. Tuesday night’s special meeting was following the same path.
Assistant Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez did roll out the new budget restructuring plan which is based on the hope that employees will accept 10% pay cuts and police, 24%, saving a million a year. Martinez said tougher enforcement of TOT collection could raise $500,000 more. She said that better control of overtime would save another $500,000. Elimination of vacant or soon to be vacant positions would cut another million. $170,000 in funding for Mammoth Lakes Trails would go away next year. Contracts for the Mono County Animal Shelter and High Sierra Energy Foundation would go. Cuts for Tourism, Housing and Transit would follow.
Martinez told the Council and the public that the long-term forecast for the budget plan shows that $3.6 million in net funds would be generated and that after the five-year forecast period, some $550,000 in annua funds would be available. Martinez fell short of saying that the annual savings could go to MLLA as a payment.
13 people then stood up to support continued funding of marketing. Tourism Director John Urdi had offered compelling statistics earlier on the bad things that happen to resorts that don’t advertise themselves.
Then, Skip Harvey went to the underbelly of all the talk – the huge lawsuit debt. He called restructuring the budget a function of the financial realities of the times. Harvey then said, “The lawsuit is really what’s on peoples’ minds. I owe the people an apology for not wrapping up the lawsuit before leaving office. I apologize to you,” he said. “I’m sorry. Truly sorry for what’s going on here.”
Harvey went on in a compelling statement that labeled bankruptcy as a disgrace and pressed the need for the Town to take responsibility for actions that got Mammoth in its mess. Harvey said MLLA “are just people. They are not the bad guys.” He said a jury found Mammoth guilty and so did a couple of judges. “We didn’t conduct our business well. I think MLLA is mad,” said Harvey. “Really mad. We need to talk to them. I will respectfully ask MLLA to take part in this mediation. It’s our last chance. We need to invite them.” Then Harvey said that all along the Town Council has been listening to experts. He said the people elected the Council to make decisions. Said Harvey, “We need to lock the team from MLLA, this Council and management in a room so we can’t come out until it’s done. We need to wrap this up.”
Harvey continued. He said the people want accountability. Why did all this happen? And, they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Then, without naming Airport Manager Bill Manning, Harvey said, “Who was down at the airport making decisions, making sure information got to the right people?” This statement referred to Manning’s testimony on the airport lawsuit in which he admitted that he got a fax from the FAA with concerns about the development project proposed at the airport but never shared the document with anyone.
Harvey said he is tired of the Town’s most important asset being managed in a mediocre way. “Change what caused this position,” he said. Without naming him, Harvey pointed to Councilman John Eastman’s effort to have his future son-in-law hired at the airport and Manning’s reported manipulation of that hiring process. Harvey called it “I can do what I want arrogance. This has to be changed,” he said.
The Councilman then moved on to what he thinks is the need for a tax measure of some kind to get the Town out of its mess. He said, bring Mammoth Mountain in to help too. Harvey made a plea for all in the Town to help. When he was clearly finished, the crowd loudly applauded. The Council will meet again May 16th.