‘One man’s loss is another man’s gain.’
That might be the most appropriate sentiment regarding losing Mono County Administrative Officer Dave Wilbrecht to the Town of Mammoth Lakes as its newest Town manager.
After eight years at the helm of Mono County, Wilbrecht leaves behind a county in enviable shape compared to almost every other county in the state: in the black, solvent, with a small but still present reserve for emergencies and economic hard times.
That doesn’t mean the county’s not in for a hard time. It is. It’s facing the same problems every other county and city in the state is facing: withdrawal of state funds, decreased property tax revenues, sluggish economic activity, pensions and health care costs that are far out of balance with revenues.
But Mono County is in relatively good shape going into the coming fray and that is, according to admirers, in no small part due to Wilbrecht (and the key employees he helped hire), a man whose low-key public presence hides a pragmatic and strong-minded man, a true leader.
“Dave has the most peculiar leadership style I have ever been around,” said Mono County supervisor Byng Hunt, who has been on the board longer than Wilbrecht has worked for the county.
“He listens to everything, listens to it all, but then he’s very forceful in that he leads in the direction he wants to go. He’ll lay it out in characteristic Dave fashion, in just a few well-chosen words, and you find yourself going, of course, why didn’t I see that before.
“There are some people who don’t agree with Dave, but when they look back, every time they realize he was logical and he was fair. And they respect him for that, even if they disagree with him.
“I looked him in the eye yesterday and I can tell you he was actually excited about the work he will have to do in Mammoth. He’s itching for a challenge,” Hunt said.
District 2 Supervisor Hap Hazard is another admirer.
“Working with Dave has been an honor and an experience,” he said. “His calm demeanor, his manner, bring out the best in people and that’s critical in reaching a good decision.”
Those very qualities are what will make losing him so difficult, he said.
“Having said all that, this is a real blow to the county,” he said. “We knew it would come eventually and he’s been sought out before, and there are no hard feelings. We are glad to have had him for eight years. But, this is frankly the worst possible time for the county to lose him.”
Wilbrecht’s unique ability to both solve short term problems and to see “what’s coming in the future” and the sheer amount of hours he’s put into the job are irreplaceable, he said, especially now, given the immense challenges the county is facing.
It’s too soon to say what the board will do regarding a new administrator, whether they advertise or recruit from within, Hazard said. That discussion will begin next week.
Speaking of challenges...
Wilbrecht is going to need all the qualities Hunt and Hazard admire and more, as he heads off to lead a town facing one of its greatest challenges ever; a $30-$40 million (including attorney fees) judgment against the Town – during a time of widespread economic hardship.
“It is what it is,” Wilbrecht said with characteristic brevity Wednesday, when the Times asked him if the judgment was worrisome. “The trick is to find the most effective way to get through it and the best way out of it.”
Mammoth has something many places don’t have that will help to compensate for what will undeniably be a sharp hit, even as it faces a big challenge, he said.
“This is a very desirable place to live,” he said.
“The Town has great potential with Measure R and Measure U to chart its future. They come with a secured source of funding and they will provide high quality services and experiences for both visitors and locals. And, the business community here is involved and dynamic, ready to step up to the plate.”
He is ready for a challenge, he said.
“All of my life experiences have led me to this,” he said. “I come with a full tool kit, with experience in public works, in finance, in almost every level of government, including working for the Town previously.”
Wilbrecht said his leadership style could best be called ”situational leadership.”
“I look people over that I’m with and try to adapt to their style, their needs in communicating with them, then I try to find the common theme running through all their differences, then come up with a plan to take action,” he said. Equally important in this is making sure each person finds something of their own in that plan, he said.