Letter to the Editor: Bold steps needed in Mammoth Lakes

Dear Town Council,

Are you serious? We went thru this once before. It was already determined that our little town does not need two Town Managers. We are very concerned and would like for you to explain to us and all of your constituents why you would approve an Asst. Town Manager at a cost of over $200k per year. Especially when you’re trying to close  a budget gap of nearly $3Million.

This is not personal, it’s business. Now we get into budget reductions proposed by staff. Why would you have a white paper prepared by staff for reduction in expenses? Do you really think that they would recommend eliminating their jobs or those of their co-workers? Reducing the expense of commission meetings and administration is ridiculously small relative to overall staff expense.

While their reports and analysis state that the town is running on bare bones, we beg to differ. There are cities/towns that are much larger that operate with smaller staff. The police department for example costs us nearly $5Million. Dana Point (population 36,000) contracts with the OC Sheriff for law enforcement in the amount of $10Million. That’s 2X our budget for over 5X the population. Cut our Police budget down to $2.5 Million and there’s your gap.

The Community Development Department can be greatly reduced or even eliminated in this down turn with no activity in development. When staff is needed, they can be contracted as many other cities do. The town does not need an on staff, fulltime CEQA expert. This is an example of a service that can be contracted as needed.

These are not frivolous thoughts or careless suggestions. We love the community and are passionate about Mammoth Lakes. We want to see it prosper into the future. This will take BOLD steps and innovative ideas. We cannot afford to keep doing things they way we have always done them.

Take the BOLD steps, make the big cuts, move forward. It is about ALL our tax dollars. We don’t want to see people lose their jobs, but people already have and there will be more. We understand that it will be our neighbors, our friends, or both. This is very unfortunate that we are here at this time, but we are here.  Council needs to do the fiscally right thing.

With deep sincerity,

Ruth and Warren. Harrell

Mammoth Lakes homeowners and voters


32 Responses to Letter to the Editor: Bold steps needed in Mammoth Lakes

  1. Dan Watson May 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    I’d like to respond to the Harrells recommendation that the Town’s budget be balanced by cutting the police budget in half. Their recommendation is based on Dana Point’s $10 million contract with the Orange County Sheriff to provide policing for a town of 36,000 (it’s actually 33, 351 as of the 2010 census). Their theory is that a Dana Point pays twice what Mammoth Lakes does for policing for a city that’s five times the size (actually, it’s four times the size – 33,351 compared to 8,234).

    I appreciate that their thoughts are neither frivolous nor careless. But there is far more to policing than a simple math exercise.

    It’s correct that Dana Point’s budget for the police contract is double what Mammoth Lakes pays for its police department. Dana Point’s contract provides for a staffing level of 42 employees, exactly double MLPD’s 21. Of Dana Point’s 42 employees, 34 are sworn police officers between the rank of deputy and lieutenant. MLPD has 18 sworn officers ranging from police officers to the chief. Since the cost of policing and the number of employees are double, the cost per employee is the same.

    So the next question is why does Mammoth Lakes have a ratio of one officer for every 457 residents while Dana Point is able to get away with one officer for every 981. There are a number of factors that impact this. Police Department’s require minimum staffing. That’s to make sure that there are sufficient officers to provide for public safety and officer safety. I would guess, based on their staff level, that Dana Point has a minimum staffing of four deputies on duty at any time. Mammoth Lakes has to have a minimum of two. Any less does not provide adequate coverage to handle more than one incident at a time, or to provide for reasonable officer safety. Do you really expect one officer to go into a large bar to handle a fight alone? I don’t.

    Another factor impacting minimum staffing is mutual aid. Dana Point borders Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano. Laguna Beach and San Clemente are nearby. It is in the middle of a heavily populated area with a lot of law enforcement nearby. If they have a major problem requiring additional resources, they are minutes away. Mammoth Lakes doesn’t have that benefit. The Mono County Sheriff’s Department has fewer people assigned to patrol than Mammoth Lakes. Back up just isn’t there and our officers have to do it with what they’ve got.

    If all officers are working, and no one is on vacation, training, or injured, there are three officers above what it takes to provide a minimum of two per shift for the entire week. The extra officers are the detective, School Resource Officer, and traffic officer. They provide a cushion to cover for officers who are unavailable due to one of these reasons.

    Finally, when considering police staffing, you must look beyond year round population. On a busy weekend, the population of Mammoth can swell to 40,000. Many of them are here to party, drink, and raise hell. While Dana Point has a nice harbor that attracts tourism, they don’t get nearly the influx that Mammoth does. And, those that like to imbibe in alcohol are doing so at sea level, not 8,000 feet where the impact of alcohol is greater. Mammoth Lakes has the exact staffing level as Sierra Madre, a bedroom city of 10,000 with no tourism, no commuting into town, and surrounded by other departments.

    The MLPD does not have any extra staffing. Vail, with a population of 5,300 with a similar level of tourism and a smaller area have 29 sworn officers to Mammoth’s 18. Anyone who believes that the MLPD has too many personnel is mistaken.

    I encourage the Harrells, or anyone who would like to know about our staffing or how we operate, to contact me. I’ll be happy to meet with anyone about this.

    • Wilfred S. May 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

      It sounds to me like 90% of your justification for a grossly overstaffed police department is due to excessive drinking? This is ridiculous. If that’s truly the case then perhaps it’s time to gather all of the business owners with a liquor license and come to some agreement to resolving this issue at the source. If bar tenders are overselling booze, then something needs to be done BEFORE there’s a problem.

      But, as is the case with law enforcement across this country, there’s a financial incentive for allowing these problems to continue without addressing the root cause. We don’t need to pay cops $75,000 a year to babysit tourist, Chief. It just doesn’t make sense.

      • Dan Watson May 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

        If you believe the police department is “grossly overstaffed,” Wilfred, I’d like to know what you believe is the appropriate number of police officers it would take to provide police protection to a remote ski resort town that gets and many as 35-40,000 people in town.

        • cat May 3, 2012 at 6:55 am #

          It’s called the Sheriff’s Department.

      • Reality Bites May 3, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

        Wilfred, perhaps you should try a ride along some Saturday night. It might open your eyes to the reality of what actually goes on. (Not that you want to be confused by any actual facts)

    • Mark May 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm #


      I support the MLPD 100% and appreciate the professionalism of the officers. That being said, it would be nice for someone to express their thoughts without an immediate rebuttal from yourself. Your arguments should be directed at our Town Council who will ultimately decide (yes, a scary thought in itself). We all know your penchant to respond to anything said about the police department and although your intentions are no doubt genuine, your arguments are reaping diminishing marginal returns and have become exhausting. Nothing you have said is new information that has not been previously discussed long before your arrival in Town. Perhaps the community is simply ready for a change regardless of the consequencs – that is the community’s decision. Let the people express their opinions and have our political decision makers decide. I usually never agree with what the Harrell’s have to say, but this time, their letter is right on the money.

      • Benett Kessler May 2, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

        Mark, At Sierra Wave we appreciate the Chief’s participation in this blog. First, it’s good to know an official cares enough to read what people are saying and then provide additional information. That’s what blogging is all about – communication. It’s not exclusive to any group.
        Benett Kessler

        • Here come the Limbaughites May 3, 2012 at 6:29 am #

          I see the Angry Men’s club (Tea Party) has found its way onto this format.
          You know them by their “SMALLER GOVERNMENT!” cries and their anti-authority views “TOO MANY COPS!” BS.
          These are a scary group of old, grizzled, unhappy … and potentially dangerous people.


    • Wayne Deja May 2, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

      Chief Watson….If Mammoth had it’s way,there would be NO police force at all in town…They would allow taverns to be open 24/7,and lower the drinking age to 18,there would be no speed limits,no drug enforcement, there would be a 420 at every street corner,and then at the end of the day,wonder why the tourism is down….

      • Bad Business May 3, 2012 at 10:03 am #

        Park City has one resort (considered the #1 ski destination in America) Deer Valley that prohibits snowboarders. Skiiers love it!

        Almost everyone I know has had at least one run-in with the younger and wilder party-til-ya-puke snowboarding crowd on Mammoth Mountain. Mammoth is developing the reputation for a party town because of what it is attracting. Economically, the average snowboarder drives up from L.A., eats at McDonald’s, and crams in 10 to a room.

        This is a huge and growing problem in this Rusty Gregory-owned town and he couldn’t care less as long as he sells lift tickets.

        I would say we need more cops in our town to handle the miscreants.

    • cat May 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

      Bottom line Dan, is that not only does the fat need to be cut but the meat as well. You should expect a reduction in your budget and staff. As well as every other aspect of the town. Why chief are you rolling around in new vehicles instead of the ones that were there before? It seems as though the whole town has it ass backwards

      • Reality Bites May 3, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

        Cat, they have a vehicle replacement program so that officers are not driving around in emergency vehicles with 200,000 miles on them! It’s a safety issue. Head down to the Town Yard and see how many miles the rigs have on them when they are taken out of service and handed down to building inspectors etc.

    • Tourbillon May 3, 2012 at 9:22 am #

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply Chief. However, while you mention the county sheriff as backup, and their purportedly scant resources, you neglect the CHP, which appears to be capable of fielding quite a few personnel between Bishop and Mammoth most any day of the week. For those one-off “40,000 drunks” weekends, CHP also maintains quite a presence in town, I’ve noticed. They certainly know how to put down their ticket books and attend to more pressing law enforcement duties when they choose to. I’m confident in your ability to work with them at need.

      You’re a public sector professional and so you know how to justify your department’s size, but your ability in this regard pales compared to what is relevant, which is: (1) TOML is technically insolvent from a lawsuit on top of a structural budget deficit that can only metasticize as property tax revenue remorselessly erodes for years into the future, and (2) MLPD represents about half of Town spending, and thus is hugely in play. We like you Chief, we like MLPD, but under the present dire circumstances MLPD’s current head count is not financially realistic.

  2. jose chavez May 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    dear chief, I applaud(sp) you for putting you reputation on the line and steping up to the plate since day one!.

  3. sierragrl May 1, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    A school resource officer is a luxury that we cannot afford at this time….any problem at the school could be responded to by MLPD within 3 – 4 minutes….the SRO is not necessary. Put him on regular shifts…it’s the responsible thing to do

  4. Just the facts May 2, 2012 at 5:32 am #

    Mr. and Mrs. Harrell sounds to me like the angst-ridden, foam-at-the-mouth, anti-government Tea Party movement that has taken hold in this country. Especially in an election year.
    It seems to me these are not the best of times to disregard the importance of a society becoming increasing interdependent.
    There must be a million other ways to throw tea in the harbor.
    I’d focus on the fat cats the live amongst us that indeed totally control the economics of the town. Bad snow or good snow years.

    • Wilfred S. May 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      I’m definitely NOT a Tea Partier, but I do agree that 1. Mammoth doesn’t need two town managers, and 2. the town’s police department is obviously overstaffed. Police officers in particular are excessively compensated for the work they perform, and I have yet to see any proof their current level of staffing is justified.

      • Just the facts May 2, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

        The Tea Party movement (TPM) is an American populist political movement that is generally recognized as conservative and libertarian,and has sponsored protests and supported political candidates since 2009.It endorses reduced government spending,cutting taxes, reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit.

        These people truly believe in their heart of heart, that Michele Bachman should be President of the U.S.

        To the best of my knowledge Wilfred S., The town of Mammoth Lakes has one town manager, and crime in Mammoth Lakes is well under control.

        So, if it sounds like a duck, talks like a duck …

        • Get The Facts Straight May 3, 2012 at 7:33 am #

          Here are the real facts, Donald.

          In reality, the Town doesn’t have ANY manager. Just Mr. Inside, the nominal Town Manager, who is hardly ever inside and Ms. Outside, the equally expensive Assistant Town Manager, who spends most of her time traveling to other States trying to get an even better gig. There goes $500,000 in salary and benefits between them.

          Then you have the two so-called airport managers who together manage all of three other employees. There’s another $350,000 or so in “managers”. And how about the recently hired, at $90,000-plus-benefits, Budget Analyst and overnight IT Manager. Does the Town Council really need a budget analyst to tell them that they haven’t balanced a budget in years or an IT manager to manage just one IT employee?

          All together, these five “managers” add up to almost a million bucks a year. Makes the Police Department seem like a good deal. And it really is as long as the Mountain and the Village bring in their growing crowd of boozers and users at no cost to them.

          I bet the Town Council will once again react to its predictable, self-made budget deficit and the protests of a few well-meaning residents by laying off one or two officers and another couple of those greedy little union employees – all the while, ignoring the burgeoning cast of Peter-Principle managers they’ve been accumulating.

          • Facts? May 3, 2012 at 9:40 am #

            It wouldn’t surprise me if “Get The Facts Straight” above is none other than Larry (Sourgrapes) Johnston incognito.

            Your remember Larry – he’s the guy who made a bundle from the County, took the money and ran, (including auto perks, etc). and today has a change of tune about the whole thing.

            Today, Larry’s main political thrust is joining forces with Tim (Tea Party) Hansen and Tim (I wanna do this again) Alpers waiting in the wings, demanding smaller government, no auto allowances for trips to Bridgeport, and reduced salaries for everyone under the sun.

            Perhaps Larry has seen the light and is prepared to reimburse The People he represents the money he feels he was overpaid from the county, plus not just 25% of auto perks he is getting but the entire thing.

            Ah …don’t you just love politicians?

  5. Jake May 2, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    The Clown Council strike again… Sorry you people are FAILING! BALANCE YOUR BUDGET AND REDUCE STAFF TODAY.

    … Time to look into a class action law suit.

  6. The Truth Hurts May 2, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Time to go to the ultimate source. Focus on the man who got greedy and wanted a grandiose airport that would accomodate 747s, hotels, (who would want to stay at an airport?) believing Mammoth would someday compete with Park City, and then get off smelling like a rose leaving the town in the lurch and bankrupt. And to make matters worse, knowing all along that L.A. people will drive up to Mammoth (as they have been doing forever) irregardless of what happens, spend their dough and make the Mountain rich. And when things get tough (bad snow year) simply lay off everybody and retreat to your own little island.

    Unfortunately, too many people worship money and power – and the rich and powerful continue to remain untouchable.

  7. Rob May 2, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    Anyone that can’t find ways to tighten their belt in tough times probably isn’t the right person for the job, especially under the circumstances.

    I’m still waiting for the council to do something, anything, towards a resolution of dealing with the debt.

    Perhaps “Just the facts” has all the answers. Focus on the fat cats and spread their wealth. Wait am I a fat cat? hmm, maybe I don’t like that idea so much.

  8. Just the facts May 2, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    You got it, Rob!
    Time to play the Share the Wealth card.

    Since it was the CEO of Mammoth Mountain who insisted on the airport thing that resulted in a total fiasco and most certain bankruptcy for the town (the council has a difficult time saying no to him) why not force him to cough up the dough?
    What’s he gonna do? Throw a fit and close down the mountain? Why should the Town take all the heat from the fire while he plays the fiddle?

    Too much power.
    WAY too much power.

    • Jake May 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      JTF – You got that right. Scary how everyone bows down to Rusty… Truth is he would kick your dog to save his own bank account… not to mention he spent 20k for the pedophile party, what a JERK.

  9. Mistaken Identity? May 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    To Ruth and Warren Harrell,

    Didn’t I see you in this clip?


    Maybe Glenn Beck can come to town and straighten out this big government in Mammoth mess.

  10. Ruth & WarrenHarrell May 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    So happy to see all the responses!This is exactly what we wanted our letter to do. Stimulate the dialgoue! Although we laugh because we are no where even close to being Tea Partiers. We love the fact that so many responded and want to express their opinion. We hope that all will be at the special council meeting and express these opinions so we can move forward. This is the problem. We all love to complain but nobody wants to show up when the work needs to be done. We encourage all of you who have responded here and all that feel like there needs to be something done to go to the meeting on Tuesday May 8 at 6:00 pm in Suite Z and voice your opinions. Make the Town Council work for you! If you can’t go to the meeting, then call them, write to them, stop them in the street. Let them know what you think. Don’t let the only voices they hear be from “on high” or staff. Let your voice be heard.

    • the problem is ... May 4, 2012 at 11:23 am #

      Though the Harrell’s plan re: “Making the Council work for you” is no doubt sincere, the sad fact is that in this company town, no matter what is presented to the council, they would always be thinking, “We’ve got to run that by Rusty.”

      You might as well grab the nearest richie-rich snowboarder from Beverly Hills and bang your head against him.

    • Reality Bites May 5, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      Ruth and Warren, Your advice about getting involved and finding out what is going on by actually going to Suite Z is very good.

      Would you consider going into the Police Department and meeting with Chief Watson and having him explain the police operation to you? You could then get back to us with another letter and see if your position remains the same.

      Please consider following your own advice when it comes to the Police Department. I am betting that the chief does not bite!

  11. Econo 101 May 4, 2012 at 5:49 am #

    I wonder if the CEO of Mammoth Mountain will be in attendance at the meeting? You know, to answer questions from citizens as to what behind-closed-doors part The Mountain played in all of this.
    Since it was the Mountain’s airport plan that failed miserably leading to the bankruptcy of the town, perhaps the CEO can volunteer to assist. Cut his salary in half, take his 15% interest and give them that, work the mountain on a shoestring budget for a few years and — voila! Everybody’s happy! Or sell the entire operation to some other financial group.
    Yeah, right.
    Like Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the CEO can conveniently shrug the whole mess off unto the suckers that went along with the mess. And when it snows again, continue to laugh all the way to the bank.
    Let the bankruptcy posturing begin!

  12. Miracle Ear May 4, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    First and foremost I believe Chief Watson – whatever else anyone might think of the popo – deserves a pat on the back. He seems to be the only one of Town Council and Town management that reads these comments, or at least has the cojones to respond to them. And he alsways seems to resond in a mostly fair and balanced way.
    That being said, Ruth and Warren, do you really really believe that Town Council listens or hears anything the general public has to say?
    My belief is they decide it all in closed session, give lip service to the public, and do what they wanted in the first place while back dating their arguments why they had to do it their way for their eogs and not what was in the best interest of the Town

  13. A Broken system May 6, 2012 at 6:07 am #

    Other than Jo Bacon, (who appears to be the best of the lot) you have one councilman dropping out of the mess for health reasons, two councilman who were around at the very beginning of the mess and yet are still around, (with one councilman once trying his best to get a relative employed at the airport) and now a developer/councilman who will be the mayor next year.

    Closed-door meetings are commonplace today.

    Until it is 100% illegal for an elected official to accept one thin dime from any source (Developers and Businesses included) the system you have in place will be a corrupt one.

    Since the only credentials required to be a power-broker in this town is to have the most votes (At-will is the best idea ever) – vote new people in every term. This may at least keep the corruption level to a minimum … maybe.


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