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Mark Wardlaw and Community Development

September 14, 2012

Mark Wardlaw is leaving town for San Diego County, and that’s a bad deal for Mammoth Lakes.

The soft-spoken Wardlaw is, until next week, the town’s “Community Development Director.” There is no hard and fast definition of what “community development” actually is, or what a director of such an entity might actually do.
 
But that’s not the point in Wardlaw’s case.
 
He had a say in just about everything that happened around Mammoth, from public works, new projects, engineering, grant writing and recently, enforcement of TOT scofflaws, ordinance violators and, for all we know, dog-catcher issues.
 
He has had so much on his plate that for him, it must have been like having bees in his head, especially when the staff began shrinking around him.
 
It is not as if he leaves without a legacy.
 
Wardlaw taught the town how to think clearly about complex matters. He taught the town staff that clear thinking is not slow thinking—rather, it is careful and precise.
 
For the most part, the town staff liked working with him. It was like they were going back to school.
 
His job, as of now, is not going to be filled, and thus his lasting legacy may turn out to be that he has taught the right people—in public office and as private citizens—how to get things done.
 
As for “community development,” whatever that is,  Wardlaw was right in line with current Mayor Matthew Lehman in the creation of the “Economic Stimulus Council”—an ad hoc group of private and public people dedicated toward jump-starting our local economy.
 
The fruits of the new council are just now coming into focus, what with the soon-to-be-announced Mammoth Kamikaze Bike Days festival next September and a new half marathon race in June.
 
As this group began to form, Wardlaw was always at the forefront, whispering advice here, directives there, advising the members on their realpolitik opportunities and so on.
 
Plus, he was never afraid to call a dumb idea a dumb idea. We can only imagine if Wardlaw had been in on the airport development back in the day, when muddy thinkers made bad policy on a bad idea that didn’t clear even fundamental steps. That kind of bollixed thinking ultimately put the town on the verge of bankruptcy.
 
It is worth noting that Wardlaw never was in a position to create policy. 
 
That job ultimately is up to the Town Council, the Planning Commission, the Airport Commission, Recreation Commission and so on. The members of these councils and committees come and go; it seems like there’s always a newbie on the dais who is clueless as to how things really work around here. But Wardlaw was there, showing the way.
 
He had plenty of critics, mostly from the “shoot now, aim later” contingent. But the smart money always said Wardlaw was a good bet.
 
Thus the idea of “community development,” whatever that is, passes on to this new Economic Stimulus Council, made up of private citizens and public officials.
 
That council has now lost its rudder. But it has not lost its sense of direction or how to get things done.
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