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Election 2014: Braun wins Sheriff's seat in landslide; Corless, Johnston win Supes races; Wentworth, Richardson, Fernie win for Town Council, Beck takes Assessor's office

June 4, 2014

Candidates and voters gathered at the red-white-and-blue festooned Side Door Cafe on Tuesday evening, June 3, to await election results. The owner of the cafe, Shields Richardson, was a candidate for Town Council. Photo/George Shirk

Ingrid Braun, a 21-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who last year was dismissed by Sheriff Ralph Obenberger, easily won election against Obenberger Tuesday night.

Braun, currently a reserve officer with the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, won in a landslide, with 1,932 votes—a 64 percent margin. Obenberger won 1,085 votes, 36 percent, in the signature race of the 2014 campaign.
 
Meanwhile, in Mammoth, Shields Richardson, John Wentworth and Colin Fernie all won seats on the Town Council, forming a new majority by replacing outgoing council members Rick Wood, John Eastman and Matthew Lehman.
 
None of the incumbent council members were among the eight candidates who battled each other in a hotly contested campaign.
 
For Braun, though, the night was hers.
 
"I had no idea how it was going to turn out," she said shortly after the votes were counted. "I hoped for the best, but was prepared for the worst."
 
She said the voters sent a clear message.
 
"People are ready for a new way of doing things," she said.
 
Braun's victory came on the heels of her dismissal from the Sheriff's Department last year, six days before the end of her one-year probationary period.
 
Neither she nor Obenberger brought up the details of her dismissal during the campaign, both of them taking the high road in delving into details in connection with that issue.
 
Under law, Obenberger, who was appointed to the post of Sheriff after former Mono County Sheriff Rick Scholl resigned mid-way through his second term, was not obliged to state the reasons for his decision to let her go.
 
Wentworth, 55, a citizen activist and leader of the Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation (MLTPA), received 812 votes (21.7 percent).
 
Richardson, 60, a real estate broker and small businessman, won 742  votes (20 percent).  
 
Fernie, who at 30 was the youngest candidate in the field, received 685 votes (18.3 percent). 
 
In fourth place was Karen Sibert, a former town staffer who currently works in the finance department of the Mammoth Community Water District. She received 596 votes (16 percent), followed by, in order, Cleland Hoff (9.4 percent), Elena Blomgren (7 percent), Deb Pierrel (5.27 percent) and Ken Murray (2.49 percent).
 
Aside from the volatile Sheriff's race, the most high-profile county contest was in Supervisor District 5, a Mammoth-only district where Stacy Corless, 43, beat back both Greg Eckert and former Mammoth Town council member and educator Kirk Stapp to win a seat ouright.
 
Needing a majority to avoid a November runoff, Corless won with 289 votes—a 54.8 percent margin.
 
Eckert received 140 votes (26.5 percent), while Stapp gathered 98 votes (18.6 percent).
 
Both Corless and Eckert attended a "Candidates Night" party at Richardson's Side Door Cafe on Tuesday evening.
 
"Greg Eckert was a total gentleman at the Side Door tonight," Corless said. "We made a pact that if it was a runoff, we would both take the summer off.
 
"I feel good, I feel great, I'm happy with the results all across the board, I'm happy Ingrid will be the Sheriff, I'm happy John (Wentworth) will be on Town Council," Corless said. I've worked a lot with him over the years.
 
"I have a campaign promise to keep and I'm going to keep it, to the people in the motorized recreation community, to work with them to take another look at the (Inyo National Forest) travel management plan, to see if we can look at some of the roads that were closed or restored."
 
She said her first priority will be to learn as much as she can during the next six months.
 
In Supervisor District 1, also a Mammoth-only seat, incumbent Larry Johnston won re-election over local locksmith Bill Sauser. Johnston, who won against Sauser four years ago with just a five-vote margin, this time won 177 votes (58 percent), while Sauser gathered 128 votes (42 percent).
 
In the Mono County Assessors race, Barry Beck defeated Robert Musil who was appointed to the position by the Board of Supervisors last September. Beck won 1,483 votes (53.5 percent), while Musil, took home 1,272 votes (46.5 percent).
 
For Braun, an accomplished amateur ski racer and cyclist, she said her victory was gratifying.
 
Running on a platform that emphasized strict law enforcement combined with community outreach, Braun became the first woman to be the Mono County Sheriff in its history.
 
"I thought about it a long time ago, back in the summer, and gave it some cursory thought, but said at the time that I don’t need the headache and the heartache.
 
“But right before Christmas, I got some phone calls from leaders in North County, Mammoth, and South County, who had contacts—civic leaders and community leaders—asking me to run for sheriff, saying that we need a choice, we need a change, and asking if I would please consider it.
 
“That’s when I said OK, but I thought about it long and hard over Christmas. I discussed it with my husband, my parents, my sisters and their husbands and received nothing but encouragement from the family.”
 
Last November, she and her husband, Mike Braun, both retired from the LAPD and signed on as Level One Reserve Officers with the MLPD.
 
Ingrid retired as a Lieutenant after 21 years of service, and Mike retired as a Senior Lead Officer with 26 years of law enforcement experience, according to a news release at the time issued by MLPD Chief Dan Watson, himself a longtime LAPD officer.  
 
Wentworth, 55, ran on a "Big Idea" platform under the slogan of "Mammoth First."
 
“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?" he said during the campaign.  
 
“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.”
 
Fernie, who came to Mammoth nearly six years ago from Steamboat Springs is the co-owner of Black Tie Ski Rentals and a member of the town's Planning and Economic Development Commission.
 
He ran a nuts-and-bolts campaign, infused with an emphasis on youth.
 
“I would like to see this become a more vibrant, year-round resort,” he said in an interview last month, “and there are a lot of factors to changing that. But I think resting on our weekend, drive-dominated model hasn’t worked at this point and it won’t work in the future.
 
“There are a lot of components that go into that change. 
 
“Right now, what we’re suffering from is brain drain here. This isn’t completely accurate in all cases, but the majority of people I see coming here are either the 18-to-25 year olds, who come here after high school or college graduation, and they just want to enjoy a couple of years living paycheck to paycheck and spending a lot of time on the hill.
 
“But when they’re faced with a point in their life to make a career decision, they feel they need to go elsewhere to do that."
 
Richardson, 60, who first came to Mammoth as a boy, then returned as a broker in the Intrawest expansion in the late 1990s, argued throughout his campaign for smarter development, along with environmental concerns, such as the proposed expansion of the ORMAT geo-thermal plant.
 
“We know investors are going to come here,” Richardson said in an interview last month, “but there are two types.
 
“One type is to invest in businesses that they will either start, or take over here, and the other is in investment by developers, whether that’s a new hotel or restaurant or new homes, although I don’t see a lot of new homes being built here, quite honestly. 
 
“I look at Community Skis as an example. They decided to make an investment in Mammoth, and we have to support that, and I think we are. People are excited to have them here, and I want to see them get as big as they want to get. That’s exciting and I want to see more of that. So as a town or community, we have to learn to open our arms and ask, ‘How can we help you?’”
 
The other type of investment has to do with what Richardson calls “The Battleship Group.”
 
“We have six or seven sites in town, including the land trade that’s going on with the Mountain, where there is space for potential multi-tenant buildings,” he said.
 
“We have to be proactive. We have to go out and ask people to come and take a look at what Mammoth has to offer. The condo-hotel is a dead program. A thing like the Westin isn’t going to happen anymore. 
 
“It’s going to be more of a traditional hotel or restaurant, and that takes a lot of money. For someone who’s going to spend $150 million, there’s a lot of risk. 
 
“We have to be ready to take on some of those issues and programs, as a community, if we want that type of development here, and I think we do."
 
The election is not officially over.
 
Provisional ballots, traditionally few in number and critical to the outcome only when a race is extrememly close, which is not the case in this election, have yet to be counted, and an official certification of the election will be later this month, at which point the election will be etched in stone, once and for all, after a hard campaign on all contested fronts.
 
For more coverage of the election, pick up a copy of the Thursday, June 5 edition of the Mammoth Times.

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