Full text of Rick Wood's Sept. 27 speech in the MLLA case
Here is the full text of Mammoth councilmember’s Rick Wood on the MLLA settlement, delivered Thursday, Sept. 27 at a special meeting of the Town Council:
You can only imagine the frustration of a lawyer and a politician being muzzled for a year on this.
I thought that I would not actually have any prepared remarks, but that I would see how things flowed.
I don't need to explain again why we voted the way we voted other than to indicate that it was very important for me to get some finality, to get some certainty, and to do that as a result of a risk-factor analysis, and that's what I did and that's the reason I came to the conclusion that I did, notwithstanding that I don't like the deal.
So instead, based in part in two things that occurred tonight, one is the letter that I received at about a six o'clock tonight that was just read into the record, and second, based on Tim Flynn's remarks.
They relate to this: the elephant in the room, if you will, is and always has been, how did this happen? How did we get here? And who's to blame? Who's responsible for this? Not for this settlement, but for this problem.
I’ve listened to it; I've heard it for the past year as have all councilmembers; it's appropriate for this council to take responsibility for the actions its staff and itself; it's appropriate for past councils to take responsibility as well, but in the end, the blame doesn't do anybody a whole lot of good. It prevents us moving forward.
That said, I think it was probably very cathartic for Michael Raimondo to write his story, and I imagine it's going to be a community to catharsis to put the blame out there and to reach back. The only value I can see in that, I do see some, it provides an opportunity to learn something from something that occurred in the past.
So, from my perspective the chronology goes something like this:
In 1997 we had an airport that we were unable to financially afford. A developer came in and made a proposal to this town to enter into a partnership. That developer promised a number of things, the town promised a number of things and the town's ultimately found was to have breached its promises.
But there's something important to remember. We as a council as a whole—and two of us, in the words of Michael Raimondo, have been tagged with responsibility for that—I would tell you that I was a member of the community in 1997 but I wasn't a member of the council.
I was a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission in 1997 and I spoke in favor of the development proposed that was proposed before the council.
I also remember clearly when the council at that time was wordsmithing a 55-year development agreement from the dais. I couldn't imagine at the time that we would be doing this; we didn't know much.
There are a number of people in the community who somehow believe that I drafted that agreement. I've read the blogs. It doesn't really matter who drafted that agreement, if we had capable town counsel, that we had a capable town manager or whether we were hoodwinked by Terry Ballas. The fact is, you do the best you can under the circumstances that you find yourself in. That's what that council did and that's what its attorney did and we went forward.
But there's something that goes along with entering into a partnership agreement, and that is the climate that you perform, not just by the letter, but you also perform in good faith. What we did—I will tell you, because I was elected to this council in 1998, and as a good councilmember and became the mayor in 2000 and I was a good mayor, I did what I was supposed to do, which was to try to fulfill the commitments that we had made in that agreement.
Who's to blame? There isn't anybody to blame. Is it Tracy Fuller, Steve Julian, Charley Long, Rob Clark? Every single one of them was well intentioned during that period of time.
I for one traveled to Washington D.C. on a number of occasions, met with the deputy director of the FAA and her engineering staff to try to convince them that the decision they'd made to rescind the approval that they had given to our agreement just three or four years earlier, was wrong. We were not successful. Is that the town's fault? The jury thought so. So we live with it.
Subsequent to that, we, as was explained earlier, entered into negotiations with Mr. Ballas and his successor. Do I blame Mr. Ballas for selling the cause of action or selling his development rights to MLLA? I'm not really happy about it, but I don't blame him either, because quite frankly, I thought he was doing what he needed to do to protect his interests.
So a lawsuit was filed in 2006. I didn't happen to be on the council at that time, nor was I on the council when the case went to trial in 2008, so I don't know what happened there. Do I blame that council? No. They did the best they could with what they had in the circumstances of the time.
You heard a number of people say that they believed that the town had not done anything wrong. A jury found otherwise. The council of 2008 determined it was wrong enough that it should be appealed. It didn't work. Some appeals are successful, some are not.
The one thing I recall very clearly in the spring of 2010, which was when Matthew Lehman and I joined the council—I rejoined the council and he joined—we made a commitment to bring this financial house back into order and included in that commitment was a commitment to fix this problem.
I didn't know—I didn't dream at that time— that we would file for bankruptcy protection. What I do know that in May of 2010 when the court of appeal rendered its decision and it was all but final, I know one month before that election of June 2010 that we were pretty much near the end, folks, so what we did during that period of time was what any responsible council with fiduciary obligations to the community would do: We went to MLLA and said we cannot pay $30 million, plus attorneys fees. Interest was accruing at $7,000 a day, and MLLA and we entered into good-faith negotiations. It didn't work out.
MLLA said we could afford to pay. I said in 2011 I would not vote to decimate the ability of this town to function as a legitimate government and if MLLA had required us to pay that judgment over 10 years, which is what I understood the law allowed to us to do, it would create a $6 million hole in our budget. The measures that the town manager mentioned that we did not touch totaled $5 million a year. It would have taken $5 million out of those measures and another $1 million out of the budget in order to resolve this.
Do I blame the town staff or past councils for not being able to get the job done? No. They did the best they could with what they had at the time and they believed it. They have the same commitment to this community as everybody else.
In 2012 we uncovered stones that had not been turned over in years in respect to the condition of our finances. We learned that we were poorer than we thought and we were generating less revenue and we had budgeted for and even accounted for. Matthew Lehman and I had the same message in the last election: We're going to fix this financial mess that we're in. In 2012 we consciously made the decision to hire very expensive bankruptcy counsel to come up with a plan, believe in that plan and, given the uncertainty of the bankruptcy process, that is not the plan that was being proposed.
We will debate for a long time or maybe a short time whether this was the right deal. My view is that what we did, we eliminated the risk. We identified it and we eliminated it. If we had lost, there would have been cataclysmic effects on this government and therefore this community.
We put $18 million a year into this community, plus capital projects. We built stuff, we maintained stuff, we provided services for folks. We plow the roads, we fix the potholes and we provide police protection. We've done things the public has asked us to do. If we're not going to be able to do any of those things, it was a heck of a risk that I felt that we would have take, had we gone forward.
I cannot tell you how strongly I disagree with Michael Raimondo's remarks. There is room for debate. I tried, I had the debate in closed session over and over and over again, but this is a democracy. We have different views. We hear the same information and process it differently and come to the same conclusions even though the process is the same. He is entitled to his opinion. It is OK. I believe it reflects the opinion of the segment of the community that suggests—and I think rather naively— that we should take our chances, roll the dice and let it go.
I contend and submit that it would be a breach of our fiduciary duty as stewards of the town's money and the town's finances for us to have not in good faith attempted a settlement and reach a settlement on terms we could afford, and that's the reason I went forward and voted for this plan. I was simply not able to persuade Mike Raimondo to do so, and I certainly respect his opinion.
So where does it leave us? It leaves us with a dramatic restructuring that, as it filters out into the community, is going to have us look a lot different and it's going to be very painful in many respects over the coming months.
I also think that Mammoth has an extraordinary resiliency; it has shown it before. But more than that, it provides us with an opportunity to move forward with a shared vision that we can only have and we only implement, with this 800-pound monkey off our backs, and that's what we've done.
One could argue that what I’ve said tonight is simply a justification for what we've done. What I’ve really meant to say is that for one year I've wanting to tell the public as what I see, or saw, as the story of the events as they unfolded over all these years. Some of it I was here; some periods of time I was not there. It doesn't matter.
It is what it is, and as we close this chapter, the door closes, another one opens and we move forward.