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Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht and Assistant Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez are this year’s Mammoth Times “Persons of the Year,” announced Publisher and Editor Aleksandra Gajewski.
“We all know that 2012 was a difficult year,” she said, “but the hardships the Town of Mammoth Lakes faced were hardships on a scale that many of us have never experienced.
“The time, energy, and effort Dave and Marianna put forth showed incredible commitment and determination to do what is best for the town, and thus for our community.”
The year was marked by the perilous perambulation of Mammoth’s seemingly inevitable slide into municipal bankruptcy as the result of a legal settlement in a breach-of-trust case involving Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition and the Terry Ballas Entities Group.
In the face of ruin and in the glare of a national spotlight, Marysheva-Martinez and Wilbrecht engineered a series of moves that not only saved the town, but also put it on its best financial footing since 2009.
The judgment calls for a $29.5 million penalty to be paid over 23 years, at an interest rate of 5.17 percent. In crafting the settlement terms, Marysheva-Martinez and Wilbrecht finagled a restructuring plan in which Mammoth could safely pay $2 million a year to settle the case.
In late December, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service moved Mammoth from the lower rungs of credit risk to a more solid rating, providing ballast for those optimists who still believe in the future of the town.
“As we go forward,” Mayor Matthew Lehman said Wednesday, “it’s possible that we can move that 5.17 percent interest rate on our legal settlement into the three percent range. If we can bond out that settlement at that rate, we’ll have saved millions of dollars.”
If the S&P decision was not exactly the end of the case, it clearly was the end of the beginning.
When Marysheva-Martinez arrived in Mammoth in February 2011, she encountered a financial spaghetti bowl in the Town Offices—a leftover from the heady boom days of the past and the subsequent meltdown of the national recession.
Having worked with current California Gov. Jerry Brown during his mayoralty of chaotic Oakland (she was his budget director for five years) and for five years as Assistant City Administrator under Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, this was nothing she had not seen before.
“I was in charge of many city functions in Oakland,” she said in an interview shortly after she took over as Mammoth’s interim town manager, “and among them were responsibilities for budget and finance, and that applies to this particular job.”
She said she knew exactly what she was getting into.
“It is exciting to join a community with so much going on,” she said, “especially during travel seasons.
“At the same time, the community has some challenges having to do with long-term fiscal planning and the immediate challenge having to do with the (MLLA) litigation and settlement.
“The challenges are what attracted me. I do take pleasure and pride in solving challenges, and it’s something I hope to be able to accomplish.”
She spoke directly, with a clipped Russian accent, devoid of the dreamy romanticism that sometimes has afflicted Mammoth’s decision-makers.
“She doesn’t sugarcoat,” Lehman said. “She’s very blunt. People think they don’t want things to be sugarcoated, but they do.
“When we were doing the restructuring, she said straight out: ‘This is going to be really uncomfortable for everyone.’ She was direct and straightforward.”
Rick Wood, a longtime councilman, mayor and local attorney, echoed Lehman’s analysis.
“What she brought to the table was an extraordinary cachet of budget and financial knowledge,” Wood said.
“She brought it first at the budget shortfall crisis early in the year, second in the mediation of creditors in the forming of that budget and finally, in the preparation for bankruptcy.
“Without her, we could not have gotten through what we got through in 2012. Her value has been almost incalculable.”
In Wilbrecht, Marysheva-Martinez found a near-perfect complementary piece. With a deep involvement in Mammoth from both the private sector and public, Wilbrecht arrived as the Town Manager in the spring after serving as administrator for Mono County.
“Dave has as steady a hand as any manager I’ve ever seen,” Wood said. “He has the ability to see beyond the horizon. He can see a larger picture than most of us can see, and that, along with his steady hand, is what we’ve needed.”
Lehman said Wilbrecht also brought a “unique ability of diplomacy” to Mammoth’s government, at exactly the time the town needed a diplomat to bridge the thorny issues of a reduced police department, along with staff reductions across the board.
“Dave has to work with everyone,” Lehman said, “from the council to the employees and department heads, and that’s been hard. But he brought a certain level of calm to a very complicated situation.
“Together, Dave and Marianna complement each other completely.”
As for the two of them being named the Mammoth Times Persons of the Year, Wood said,
“That is absolutely the best decision the newspaper could have made, no doubt about it.”