Town Manager Clark heads to Ojai after rough ride in Mammoth Lakes

Town Manager Rob Clark rode into town on the wings of prosperity, when Mammoth was on the rise and could do no wrong.

Six years later, he rides into Ojai, under the shadow of the recession, when Mammoth is on the fade and can’t seem to shake out of it.

From Clark’s point of view, there were significant victories in his years here, and also defeats.

“I think getting our air service going in the middle of the recession was rewarding, and I’m proud of the staff. They have kept thing going in spite of these different things.

“We’re a team around here, no one thing can get done by one person and no one person can take all the credit.”

There is little question that the town staff has liked working with Clark.

Not the same can be said for other sectors of the government, such as members of the Planning, Recreation and Mobility commissions, not to mention the Town Council.

“I wish him well in his new job,” said a sardonic Planning Commission Chair Tony Barrett on Tuesday. Barrett was on town council when Clark came aboard.

“You know, I was the only one who didn’t vote for him to begin with.”

“I’d agree that the staff liked working for him,” said Recreation Commission Chair Bill Sauser, “but I think the timing is right for him to move on.”

On Tuesday, Clark announced that he was leaving Mammoth to become City Manager of Ojai. Ojai is a small town nestled in the northeast corner of Ventura County and is known for its tourist and arts-related activities. It abuts the Los Padres National Forest.

Prior to becoming the Town Manager of Mammoth Lakes in 2004, Clark served as City Manager of Avalon on Catalina Island and Deputy City Manager of Laguna Beach.

He assumes his new duties Feb. 21.

In an interview this week, Clark said the challenges of managing the town government here are unique in the sense that alliances have had to be formed among so many entities.

There is the Town and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area; the Town and the Inyo National Forest; the Town and Mono County; the Town and Caltrans, all of which make up a rich stew of potential conflict at every turn.

“A lot of the Town Manager’s job here is how to figure out how to pull people together,” Clark said.

“It’s probably more so here. One of the projects I enjoyed the most was forming ESTA (Eastern Sierra Transportation Agency).

“That was interesting because you have the Town and the county, which don’t always view things the same way; and then you have Inyo and Mono, which don’t always see things the same way.

“But we all got around the idea of a seamless transportation system. Seeing all those people riding the trolleys still gives me a thrill.”

As for the lowest lowlight in his tenure, Clark said it was in last fall’s decision to eliminate a half-dozen staff jobs (even though critics have persistently insinuated the budget shortfall was of his own making).

“It was hard for me to have to see people go who were very dedicated, hardworking, productive employees,” he said. “Sometimes people go because they’re not doing that well, but in recent years, because of the recession, people who were outstanding performers and doing well, had to go.

“That was very difficult for me.”

As for the $30 million Hot Creek litigation, Clark started in a tough spot and leaves in a tough spot.
“I inherited the problem from my predecessor, and I did the best I could to work things out with the FAA and the developer, but at the end of the day, it was not a viable project.”

And as for the weird timing of his announcement, less than a month after Mammoth’s loss in the California Appeals Court, Clark said,

“The process for recruiting a City Manager is a very long process.

“My application to Ojai started back in October. A lot of things have happened since then.”
Town Council will meet in closed session on Feb. 2, to discuss options.