As the Town Council campaign for three open seats evolves, the eight candidates have tried hard to hone their core platform planks in advance of the June 3 primary election.
Each of them has a different spin; each has a take that differentiates one from the other.
Three of them—John Wentworth, Elena Blomgren and Karen Sibert—bring very different main dishes to the table, so to speak, but all three of them also bring a range of hands-on experience at the town government level.
Wentworth, 55, is a veteran coalition builder who, as the leader of the Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access (MLTPA) Foundation, has been instrumental in helping the town forge partnerships among a variety of groups and government entities.
Those partnerships have resulted in real results, perhaps the most striking being the landmark agreement between the Town of Mammoth Lakes and the National Forest Service in building the Mammoth Lakes Trail System.
His main theme revolves around the idea of a “Mammoth First” concept, in which the citizens of the town can rally around the notion that Mammoth can be larger than the sum of its parts.
“I don’t see any real limits to what we as a community can achieve,” he says, both in his stump speeches and his campaign literature.
Blomgren, 45, is a longtime visitor and relatively recent full-time resident—a successful Southern California business entrepreneur who worked at Town Hall at the staff level and gained a reputation as a sharp, go-to staffer in a variety of tasks, from permit fees to finance.
Her primary theme is in establishing a better line of communication between citizens and the Town Council.
“I feel that the community’s input is not being considered at this time and that really concerns me,” she said recently in an interview.
“I just don’t see that right now. It seems like all the same people sit on the same committees and go to the same meetings. These people are the ones who make all the decisions in town.
“I’d like to see the community more involved, so that they don’t go around talking about how they’ve been treated unfairly and feel cheated.”
Like Blomgren, Sibert, 51, also brings town staff experience to her campaign.
She worked in the town’s finance department, then helped lead a team (under then-community development director Mark Wardlaw) to streamline and make sense out of the processes associated with collection of Transient Occupancy Taxes—a fund that supplies the town with about 70 percent of its general fund revenue.
The core of her campaign is strengthening and maintaining the TOT collection process. With the added revenue, she said the council could give itself more wiggle room to pay for upcoming expenses such as a new police station, added officers to the MLPD, and long-range public works projects, such as road repair.
“It needs all the support it can get because there’s a lot of money there,” she said in a recent interview.
“It’s our bread and butter; it’s our everything. It’s our Police Department; it’s our roads. The collection of TOT is a top priority. How are we going to do it?”
For Wentworth, details of short-range objectives all fall within The Big Idea.
“To really put the idea of Mammoth First, we have to keep it in our individual minds: How does this add up to a larger proposition that is Mammoth?
“Some of the council members went to Whistler this past year, and I remember hearing someone say that when someone is going to make an assessment of risk, they need to know that there is something happening in the community that will compel their guests and their visitors to come and buy condos, buy a house, or stay in a hotel.
“We need to be building and investing in the experiences and opportunities to visit here, to live here, and to invest money in this town. That’s our obligation as a community—to create the compelling rationale that Mammoth is a great place to visit, a great place to start a business or invest money in, and it’s a great place to raise a family also. That’s our obligation.”
Wentworth dismissed the idea that his vision is a pipedream.
“We have all the tools to do that,” he said.
“They’re kind of tricky and complicated, but between things like Mammoth Lakes Tourism and Mammoth Lakes Recreation, these kinds of initiatives, we need to make sure those things work because that’s probably going to tip the balance for someone wanting to invest, visit, or raise a family in this town.
“Does this community really have its act together? Does it really know what it’s doing, and is it doing it well?”
Blomgren said in an interview that she has seen first-hand a disconnect between town government and Mammoth’s citizens.
She said she wants to fix that quickly, particularly among the younger residents who are trying to make Mammoth a full-time home.
“You’re seeing the 30-year-olds really getting into politics, and I think that’s about the right time when you start wanting to set your roots, maybe buy a house and so on.
“We’re seeing an involvement with the younger generation in town, and I always tell them if they want to be heard, they need to come to meetings and voice their opinions.”
Blomgren, who was 25 when she took over as general manager of a drag racing company and an accompanying drag racing school in Santa Clarita, said she dreams of a day when Mammoth can nurture young dreamers instead of turning them away as the seasons change.
“It’s really sad to see your friends have to pack up and leave during different times of the year because they can’t afford to stay here,” she said, “and that should speak volumes to us.”
Among the hurdles Blomgren might face in the June 3 election is mere name recognition. However, she said she is unfazed by that obstacle, if it exists at all.
“I meet with people all day long,” she said. “I go to events as much as I can. I like to be really private, but in business, it’s easy to be friendly. I’ve gotten such a warm reception from people, and here I am, running for Town Council.
“Word of mouth in this town has a great deal of strength, and this town runs on Facebook, which is interesting.”
Sibert, who currently works as an accountant with the Mammoth Water District, said she wants to bring common sense to the financial machinery of the town government.
“We need to grow the general fund because a lot of that kind of work takes general fund monies. That can be done through TOT.
“I worked on the TOT team. It was such a politically hot topic. The committee needed to get the work done and it was incredibly difficult to develop a program and implement it at the same time.
“Some planners were working on it, and it was going along, but he (Wardlaw) was concerned that it was so politically hot that the Council wanted it done. It needed to be driven, so he put me on it to drive it forward.
“It was huge and it still is, and still needs a lot of support, but it’s revenue. It’s our tax dollars sitting out there uncollected year after year after year.”
Sibert has adopted a phrase called “participatory budgeting” as an idea to get the community more involved in setting town priorities through the budget.
“I have faith that it’s possible to get people involved as to what’s right for them, and at the very least, when they do show up and talk, consider it.
“From talking to people ever since I filed my papers and have been running for Town Council, I don’t think people feel they’ve been heard.”
The three candidates each bring a different set of campaign planks to their campaigns, ranging from the creation of Mammoth Lakes Recreation (Wentworth is a strong supporter; Blomgren is skeptical, and Sibert argues that the process is moving too fast), to specific ideas regarding economic development, public safety, finance and intergovernmental relationships.
Many of those specific ideas are contained on their campaign websites.
If nothing else, the three of them illustrate the degree to which this particular Town Council race is diverse, from large ideas to smaller ones, cutting across a wide range of experience among the candidates.