By Deb Murphy
Over the past two weeks, four Eastern Sierra entities took the first leery step to enable the Eastern Sierra Council of Governments to more actively tackle regional issues.
The four, Bishop, Mammoth, Inyo and Mono, agreed to contribute up to $10,000 toward half of a Town of Mammoth Lakes’ staffer to provide administrative support.
The case was easily made as the ESCOG, made up of two representatives from the four entities, has expanded beyond the initial “information sharing” quarterly meetings to taking the lead in broadband connectivity and now air service.
The second prong of the discussion was a bit tougher. Vaguely defined in Bishop, Inyo and Mono counties’ agendas this week was consideration of a Joint Powers Authority to allow for just that, more power and more authority, in the hands of the ESCOG.
Mammoth held its discussion and vote at its September 19 meeting. Bishop’s City Council went along, approving the second motion, with little discussion. The respective Boards of Supervisors and Mammoth engaged in what was described as “a lively discussion.”
Why is all this news?
The ESCOG has the potential to take on shared challenges. The motions approved this past week could mark the beginning of a very good thing, or not, depending on which side of the lively discussion one fell and how the council conducts business going forward.
Proponents of the development of a JPA stressed that ESCOG members would take whatever actions or direction the entity took back to their respective boards for discussion and approval. The ESCOG meetings come under the Brown Act with posted meetings, etc. It’s not a shadow government.
So, here’s how the discussions played out.
Inyo Supervisor Rick Pucci probably had a broader understanding of Councils of Governments thanks to his previous life as Bishop’s City Administrator. His concern: “issues of significance are not always significant to all the entities.”
Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley wasn’t comfortable with another layer of government without a clearer definition of the JPA. Kingsley reminded the Board his district including the east county desert communities was very far removed from Mammoth Lakes.
Neither was flatly opposed to exploring a JPA, just more cautious than Supervisor Jeff Griffiths, one of Inyo’s ESCOG representatives.
Mono County Board of Supervisors ended with a 3-2 split in favor of further discussions of a JPA.
District 1 Supervisor Jennifer Halferty came out swinging, arguing the ESCOG didn’t need a JPA to achieve regional goals. “We all need to be working on these goals,” she said.
District 2 Supervisor Fred Stump’s problems with a JPA were similar to Kingsley’s. Stump’s district includes Tri-Valley, along U.S. Route 6. “All ESCOG’s good things haven’t happened in East County,” he said, reminding the Board that, despite ESCOG’s Broadband Consortium, the Tri-Valley doesn’t even have adequate cell service.
Mammoth Town Council dealt with the ESCOG vote at its September 19 meeting, approving further exploration of the JPA 4-1. Councilmember Kirk Sapp was quick to point out the lack of specificity but agreed in concept. Bill Sauser didn’t like “setting up another bureaucratic structure” and wanted to know what other options were available short of a JPA.
Both voted to flesh out details on the JPA. Without really participating in the discussion, Mayor Cleland Hoff was the lone negative vote.
Mono County’s Stump possibly flew the most serious cautionary flag of the multiple discussions. “Strong personalities on a JPA can dominate. We need to make sure there is a balance,” he warned.
That responsibility lies with all four entities and their constituents.