Council winners face steep learning curve

Whoever wins the race for the three open Town Council seats on June 3, the “new majority” will come face-to-face with a steep learning curve.


“We’re going to keep the agendas as light as we can for the first few meetings,” said council member Jo Bacon, who will become the town’s mayor as of July 2.


“But I don’t think it will take that long, certainly not longer than a year.”


Bacon is one of just two incumbent council members, with Michael Raimondo the other. When Raimondo first took his seat, he had the unenviable task of landing smack dab in the middle of the Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition litigation, an impending bankruptcy and the painful budget gutting associated with that.


He had not held elective office before he came aboard, and none of the current eight candidates for council have held elective office before, either.


The learning curve not only is a process of learning and directing policy, it also is in more mundane matters. 

Complete coverage of the campaigns for Mono County and the Mammoth Town Council is in the 2014 (Ongoing) Election Handbook.

Those have to do with such things as grasping Robert’s Rules of Order (how meetings work), as well as how to maneuver in a close vote.


Outgoing council member John Eastman, who has more years on the council than anyone in the town’s history, said he’s seen it all.


“Some people need a year,” he said. “Some people need two years. Some of them don’t get it in four years.


“Mostly,” he said, “it depends on the people. The biggest mistake some new council members make is that they come in feeling as if they have to be best at everything, but that’s impossible.


“The reality is that a single individual can do only so much. My advice to any of them is to do what you’re good at, and what you’re not good at, defer to someone who is.”


Eastman was first elected to the town Council in 1986, just two years after Mammoth was incorporated as a town.  


He lost in the 1990 election, but he has been on the council every year since 1994, when he regained his seat after a particularly dysfunctional council (he called them ‘The Stooges’) held sway for four years.


What he’s learned, he said, is that in the matters of town planning, he has always leaned on Bacon’s expertise, which she herself learned by being on the town’s Planning Commission.


In legal matters, he said, he has relied over the years on the current mayor, Rick Wood, and on former council member Neil McCarroll, both of whom are attorneys.


As a longtime member of the Local Transportation Committee, a group from Kern, Inyo, Mono and Alpine counties, Eastman has established his own area of expertise on transportation and highway matters.


If a new council member gets too far ahead of his or her area of expertise, he said, he or she runs the risk of running headlong into a rude awakening.


“You might think you’re right on an issue, and then lose, 4-1,” he said, speaking from long years of personal experience.


Bacon said her own learning curve on the Town Council was not so steep.


“Because I was on the Planning Commission and was involved with government before that, I had a pretty short one.”


The candidates who have had some experience in non-elective government matters include Shields Richardson (Tourism and Recreation Commission); Colin Fernie (Planning and Economic Development Commission); and Deb Pierrel (Airport Commission).


Richardson said he is under no illusions.


“No incumbents are running,” he said. “There will be three new people, and whoever they are, there will be a very short honeymoon period, but things have to get done, and the voice has to be found pretty darned quick.”


Fernie said his work with the planning commission, as well as his work on the Mammoth Lakes Recreation Formation Committee, would give him a leg up, should he win.


But to Eastman, the candidate who stands the best chance of beating the learning curve would be John Wentworth.

“I’d separate out John because he has gone to so many council meetings and knows how they work.”


Whether Eastman is correct about Wentworth, should Wentworth win a seat, is up in the air. Whether commission-level experience would help wannabe council members like Fernie, Richardson, and Pierrel, also is open to speculation.


One thing for sure, though, is that there’s a learning curve dead ahead of them, and the winners—all of them—will have to climb it.