Mammoth Lakes Mayor Skip Harvey has a few ideas about how government works – or doesn’t – in this town.
Make that a lot of ideas, some of which he tossed out to the town council on Wednesday night.
One of them was easy enough – a proposal to change the structure of town council meetings.
The second one got most of the attention – changing the very structure of the government.
His proposal was to put more power into the hands of the mayor by dismantling Mammoth’s current “council-manager” form of government. Mammoth’s structure has been in place since the town was incorporated in 1984.
Harvey said he’d like to see some form of a “mayor-council” structure in which the mayor could hire and fire staff department heads, removing that power from the town manager, usually called a city supervisor.
He said that would help in communications between the council and the staff.
He also floated the idea of an elected mayor, putting one person in charge to stop the buck once it is passed around.
Several council members were not impressed.
“We’ve got an awful lot on our plate right now,” said councilman Rick Wood the morning after. “We’ve got to hire an interim town manager, an administrative services director, a town manager and a police chief.” (Dan Watson is an “interim” police chief.)
“It would not be a good time to change the government with a lot these things going on.”
Wood did not dismiss Harvey’s proposal but said, “The timing is wrong.”
According to the California Government Code, the options for municipal government are mayor council; council-manager; directly elected mayor, election from districts and adoption of a charter.
According to the town’s staff, there are 442 cities or towns in California with some variation of the council-manager form, and that includes Mammoth.
There are just 28 cities or towns with the mayor-council.
Los Angeles, for example, has a directly elected mayor with executive rather than legislative duties.
Bishop, meanwhile, has a “weak mayor” set-up, in which he or she is one of five council members, who together have the authority to hire and fire city department heads.
A directly elected mayor normally serves a two-year term and the four council members are elected to alternating four-year terms.
Thus two council members and the mayor are elected every two years.
The council took no action on Harvey’s proposals, which he presented by PowerPoint.
Any change in the structure of town government would have to go before the voters.
Meanwhile, Harvey wants to change – and lengthen – council meetings.
Under his proposal, the bi-weekly meeting would start at 4 p.m., rather than the current 6 p.m. It would give the council a chance to talk to the department heads and some staff in an informal setting.
The meeting would adjourn at 6 p.m. and resume at 7 p.m., then go according to the way they are run now, but pushed back an hour.
Some of the council members complained that Harvey was creating more work and longer hours. Wood said he’d hardly ever be able to make a four o’clock meeting because of his work schedule.
As it was, the council on Wednesday night finally got of its chambers at about midnight, after a three-hour regular meeting and a three-hour closed session.