Mammoth Town Councilman Skip Harvey voiced what many see as a solitary view at Wednesday night’s Town Council meeting when he said the Town Council needs to take responsibility for the MLLA debt and for being far more open with the public about the strategies dealing with the debt and the possible impacts of bankruptcy.
The Town had signed a confidentiality agreement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition to kept quiet about secret negotiations over the $42 million debt. Councilman Harvey said that since MLLA openly published a settlement offer in the media through Benett Kessler, why are the issues still in closed session? He said Andy Geisel of The Sheet brought up the same issue at the last meeting.
Harvey said the Town Attorney explained there are active legal matters and strategies which remain legitimately confidential under the Brown Act. Harvey said regardless of the Brown Act, people have a right to know. He said the public can’t help the Town if they don’t know what’s going on. Harvey said to the audience, “You need to know what bankruptcy means, what settlement means to our Town.
“This lawsuit,” said Harvey, “affects everybody in Town. You have a right to hear from this Council what it means and not from a high priced attorney. They may know the law,” he said, “but they do not necessarily know what’s best for the community.”
Councilman Harvey went on to say that it’s going to be tough. “It’s a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into,” he’s said. Harvey said it will take every single citizen and leader to help the Town. “We need to get out of closed sessions,” he said. “The people need to know.”
No other councilmember chimed in to support Harvey’s strong view. Councilman Rick Wood did say that there are differing views on the Council. He said each member takes the issue very seriously and don’t operate in a vacuum. Wood pointed to the Frequently Asked Questions posted on the Town website as a source of information. He also pointed to the structural deficit in Town Government with declining revenue. Wood said, “We won’t take the bait and violate the confidentiality agreement.”
Thursday, the Town sent out a letter to the editor responding to MLLA’s March 23 letter sent to Sierra Wave to be published. Check out the letter on our website, www.sierrawave.net.
The Town Council, the letter says, reported publicly and to MLLA that it is facing structural financial challenges above and beyond MLLA’s $42 million judgment. The letter says the Town faces budget gaps this year and next that add up to $3.4 million. Cuts and restructures lie ahed. Next fiscal year the shortfall stands at 13% of the whole budget. The Town says an across the board reduction would slash “employee compensation, cuts to marketing, housing and transit dollars, reductions in public safety and snow removal services, cuts to recreation programs, and so on. This is why a fundamental financial plan involving both cuts and debt restructuring is important,” the letter says.
The letter goes on to say that the Town’s restructuring plan, once finalized, will balance the “need to continue providing these services with the need to satisfy the MLLA judgment and other obligations of the Town.” The restructuring apparently requires concessions in mediation, which MLLA has so far refused to enter.
The last line in the letter says, “As we continue to develop the Town’s restructuring plan and negotiate a fair and sustainable solution to the Town’s many financial challenges in mediation, we will be able to make more detailed proposals in response to MLLA’s most recent demand.
So the letter really says nothing more than what the public already knew. Skip Harvey revealed that the MLLA issue did impact his decision not to run for Town Council. He said his decision had nothing to do with his health which is “improving every day.” He said he wanted to take a breather to “see how the Town wants to do business. “Are we the kind of Town that wants to play hard ball? Or the kind of Town that takes responsibility for our actions? I’m not quite sure,” he said. “I want to take a break and see.”
Currently, the court order in favor of MLLA requires the Town to pay up the $42 million by the end of June.