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Radical Ideas

February 13, 2014

The political season is wide open now, in both Bridgeport and Mammoth Lakes, but we’re not sensing much excitement about it.

Candidates are beginning to line up, but most of them, so far, are old hands at this kind of thing, inspiring little more than a ho-hum. 
 
Others in the races so far have yet to come forward with anything approaching a new idea, much less a cohesive vision.
 
Meanwhile, at the very edges of public policy, the Mammoth Town Council is about to nail down a fundamental, radical change in municipal government.
 
It will happen next Wednesday night, Feb. 19, when the council will likely pass a measure approving the creation of Mammoth Lakes Recreation—a non-governmental organization (NGO).
 
If the council approves the measure, after seven months of work by citizen activists working largely behind the scenes, it will take one of our greatest assets—recreation—out of the hands of one of our greatest liabilities—our political leaders.
 
Oddly enough, it has been Rick Wood who has led this effort, and there are few people around here, if anyone, who better embody a politician or who enjoy it more.
 
Yet even Wood, a former Recreation Commissioner, felt the need to take recreation “out of the hands of the politicians” if Mammoth is to move forward in figuring out how to build things like an indoor recreation center and a permanent outdoor venue, or in replacing decrepit facilities such as the Whitmore Pool.
 
The vote on MLR is just one piece of a radical idea of taking control of traditional government entities and services out of the hands of the government itself.
 
In most cities and towns, tourism falls under the control of a town government, but not here. In Mammoth, the government formed Mammoth Lakes Tourism, with the idea that professionals could run tourism marketing better than fly-by-night, parochial town politicians.
 
Similarly, Mammoth farmed out its transit responsibilities, supporting Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (ESTA), rather than leaving such a vital service in the hands of politicians. This, too, is a radical idea in municipal government.
 
So it has gone, too, with Mammoth Lakes Housing, another NGO.
 
With recreation now folded into Mammoth Lakes Recreation, Mammoth will have given over four major governmental responsibilities to non-government entities.
 
We asked Michael Ward, of the Lake Tahoe-based Strategic Marketing Group, if he knew of any other municipality anywhere that was going down this path.
 
Nope.
 
Even as the town government makes these big changes, small groups of cloakroom activists are gathering, probing for new ideas as to how to make Mammoth Lakes all it can be in advance of the June 3 elections.
 
We think groups like this are terrific. There is not a lot of informed political debate around here, whether inside the Town Offices or out of them.
 
Most exciting of all is the prospect of having new, preferably younger, candidates step forward to offer clear, new, options for moving forward into the next four years.
 
But if Mammoth voters want a really radical idea, something that 10 years ago would have been off the charts, try this one:
 
Take the government out of the government’s hands.
 
It’s a good idea, we like it, and it’s happening, if anyone cares to notice.
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