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In a race that features no incumbents, and hence no candidates with positions to defend, the June 3 Town Council campaigns have at least one thing in common.
Each of the eight candidates for three open seats brings big visions to the table.
What they lack in detailed platforms, three of them who are profiled this week—Deb Pierrel, Cleland Hoff, and Ken Murray—at least bring different emphases to their campaigns.
Among the three, Pierrel has experience in town government as a member of the Airport Commission (now disbanded), as well as serving as a volunteer on an ad hoc committee to help make the town budget documents understandable (with citizen activists Sandy Hogan and Joyce Turner).
Pierrel, 52, owner of CLE Hospitality, emphasizes fiscal conservatism around the larger idea of changing the “culture” of the Mammoth decision-making process.
Hoff, 48, who thus far has run as a strong advocate on behalf of “what’s good for locals is good for the town,” has brought a sense of levity to the campaign, as well as strong positions on single-family home rentals (“No, no, and no”) and in solving the town’s upcoming conundrums on issues related to solid waste disposal.
A former member of the town’s local media as a video reporter, Hoff is the owner of Film Mammoth, and brings a set of ideas that all are set under the umbrella notion of “motherhood.”
Murray, 50, is the newcomer in the bunch and certainly will not bring motherhood as a campaign theme, but is a strong advocate of town beautification, business sense, and budgetary responsibility.
The general manager of the Chart House restaurant on Old Mammoth Road, Murray came to Mammoth five years ago for a six-month stint, but is still here, his love affair with the town growing to the point where he says he can’t imagine what circumstances would compel him to leave.
There are no sharp lines differentiating their policy proposals. Each wants an increase in staffing at the Mammoth Lakes Police Department. Each wants recreation to thrive and grow, whether it is under the direction of an NGO such as the proposed Mammoth Lakes Recreation, or other ways.
Rather, their differences have more to do with style and tone as much as anything. How those kinds of differences may play out from the dais of the Town Council is not yet clear to them, much less the voters.
That’s the kind of campaign this is, though: broad brushstrokes on a wide-open canvas.
Pierrel said she sees a “huge, ripe opportunity to change the way we do business, and the culture of our town.”
“It’s a little rocky right now,” she said in a recent interview.
“There’s a crack in the foundation. We haven’t seen a lot of change in the last 10 years, so it’s like Einstein says, the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
“If we get the right collaborative people all together as a Town Council and we embrace ideas from all areas and think quickly and consistently, we can cause a change in the foundation and culture of the way we do business.”
A case in point, she said, is to move swiftly to put issues related to Developer Impact Fees (DIF) into a comprehensive package that everyone can agree upon.
“All or nothing doesn’t work,” she said. “For a developer to come here and not know what the expectations are, and to see that they change so often, that’s not easy.
“They should be able to go online, see what our fees are, see what’s important to us, and if they want to ask for some mitigation.
“We need a fee structure that’s honorable and respectful. We need to change the culture and put that into place.”
Another example, she said, is in the area of economic diversity and growth.
“How can we help new businesses? How can we get a new incubator for new businesses? How do we solicit new businesses to come here?
“We need to make decisions, and going back to my culture idea, do we give tax breaks to new businesses in the slow seasons for three years?
“I’m not saying these are the answers. What I’m saying is, let’s think innovatively and discuss it.
“We need to think outside the box a little bit. If we have better relationships, and our culture is better, and our finances are a given tool, we can make these decisions a lot easier.”
Hoff’s campaign for a seat on the Town Council might be the most unusual in recent history, and she said she knows it.
Her run is on a shoestring, and her decision to do it was a last-minute call.
“I think about that a lot. I ask myself that question in the middle of the night. Why am I running for Town Council?”
The answer, as it turned out, was in her feelings having to do with the nebulous idea of motherhood.
“It really goes back to a sense that the town needs some mothering, in a way,” she said in an interview.
“That was my original intent. Somewhere, I was signing someone else’s petition and I asked, ‘I wonder why there hasn’t been a mother on Town Council in so long,’ and someone said, ‘They just don’t have time,’ and that thought came back to haunt me.
“When I read that Matthew Lehman wasn’t going to run again, and that little voice came back to me and said, ‘Well, you’re a mother and my son’s starting high school here, and he’s already started to move away from me because he’s 14 and he has his friends, so I’ve already been kind of looking for things to get back into.’”
How Hoff’s “sense” of motherhood might play out in Town Council Chambers, she said, comes from the demands of being a parent.
“I think mothers learn how to make really tough decisions and we learn how to do them quickly. Most of the time, women wind up running the household, and a lot of times the bulk of the work fall onto them. And I think mothers are a heck of a lot stronger than what people give them credit for.”
Specifically, Hoff said this notion would bring decisive action in the areas of town policies.
“Serving on the Town Council I think is going to be kind of like having a baby.
“Before [her son] Blaise, I was going to be this kind of mother, this type of parent, and then I actually had him and then all my preconceived notions went out the window.
“It was so much harder. I’m sure the same thing’s going to happen if I’m voted on Town Council—that it’s going to be infinitely more difficult, but I know I can put in the time and wrap my head around the big issues.”
She acknowledged her lack of political experience, but said that should not preclude her acumen.
“I don’t have to be the smartest person in town,” she said, “because I know all the smartest people in town, and when they have good motives for something.”
Murray’s run for a Town Council seat caught many local political observers by surprise, but it made perfect sense to him.
As a general manager of a legacy restaurant along Old Mammoth Road, the former resident of San Diego said he sees firsthand issues related to tourism, town infrastructure, customer service, and marketing.
He said he appreciates the work the current Town Council has done. He said he is a strong supporter of the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) and that this particular council has had to make tough decisions based on political history.
However, Murray also said he would like to see the council bring more thoughtfulness to decisions and how they may affect the long-range consequences.
Murray put his position in metaphorical terms.
“I’ll give you a little example,” he said in an interview.
“There’s a park-and-ride parking lot right across the street from us, which is very seldom used, and there’s a very busy bus stop right across the street from us, above the park-and-ride.
“But nobody thought to put stairs that go from the parking lot to the bus stop. So why would I want to walk around, in the snow if you want us to use the bus stop?
“That’s what I mean about making decisions. Do we cover all our bases when we make them?
“So that parking lot will never be used to its fullest potential, or for what it’s made for.
“Did the council at the time even ask the question?”
Murray said it was a small example, but it could have been applied, for example, in the decisions leading up to the airport fiasco, which resulted in the MLLA judgment that costs the town $2 million a year.
“Paying now for decisions made in the past affect the budget,” he said.
“That’s the major issue that was made years ago, but which affects us now. I don’t think anyone thought [MLLA] was going to be a factor, or when it was going to be a factor, but it could happen again, five years from now.”