Municipal Government



The Town of Mammoth Lakes was incorporated in 1984* as a General Law City with a Town Council of five members and a rotating Mayor. A “General Law” city is often referred to by city government professionals as a “weak mayor/strong manager” form of government.  This is because a rotating mayor and an inherent lack of flexibility to design the governing institutions to fit the unique needs of the community give the power to the Town Manager to interpret and direct the general laws of California to fit the community’s needs. The Town Manager reports to a Mayor who was not selected directly by the community due to the rotating Mayor program.

Given our accumulated experience since 1984, here are some questions that we may want to ask ourselves:

  • Is this the best, most effective form of government for our population, environment and demographics?
  • Is this form of government truly accountable to its citizens?
  • Does the structure and culture of the Town’s staff effectively and efficiently serve the citizens of Mammoth Lakes?
  • As citizens, what can and should we expect from our Town’s governing structure?
  • What tools do the citizens have to improve the checks and balances should we choose to restructure our form of government?
  • Do we understand that our government’s financial sustainability is dependent on transit occupancy tax [TOT] which fluxuates with hotel stays where most communities’ revenue source is based on a stable reliable revenue stream?
  • How many of our citizens know we have other options?



Mammoth Lakes has consistently had a difficult time attracting qualified, interested candidates for its Town Council that represent a true cross-section of the community. Because the compensation only includes a minimal stipend of $xxx per xxx plus health benefits and the time invested to effectively serve on Council is substantial, those of us who have families, need to work full time to support our lives in Mammoth and/or have many other community commitments are underrepresented.


In a rotating mayor form of government, the person with the most power in the community, the Town Manager, serves at an “arms-length” from the citizens. To consider for the most effective Mayor for Mammoth Lakes:

  • Elected Mayor enhances accountability directly to the citizens that elected the Mayor
  • Define Mayor to Council members relationship
  • Town Manager is a direct report to the Council via the elected Mayor


[TEXT NEEDED: Create Payment & Term Limits for Town Council Members to improve accountability.]

Recommendations to attract effective Council members who represent a cross-section of the community:

  • XXXX
  • XXXX


[TEXT NEEDED] NGO Partnership and Oversight: Support and accountability for MLR, MLT, MLTPA:Our government has been evolving towards a somewhat sophisticated model of outsourcing. This will continue to reduce the role of government.

  • Aspects of delivering Town services (future Economic Development Efforts, MLT, MLR, MLH, ESTA, etc) through NGO partnerships living outside of the public agency can take advantage of non-profit leveraging, volunteer time and hours and individual organizations passion for and resources in their areas of expertise.
  • Public-private-partnerships [P3’s] which include private, non-profit organizations are the “way forward” to economic diversification and future economic opportunities. These partnerships lead to the best of both worlds in intellectual, financial and structural resources to meet the needs of a community dependent on a flexible revenue stream and a creative, dynamic environment.


[TEXT NEEDED] A few key leadership positions are considered “at-will” employment, including the Town Manager. All other staff are represented by various government employee unions who hold a tremendous amount of power to protect Town staff jobs.  Yada, yada…As citizens, we should expect, at a minimum, from Town staff:

Improving relationships


Which brings the conversation back to an analysis of the value to Mammoth Lakes of a General Law City vs. a Charter City form of government.

The goal is to recreate the relationship of Council to the Town Manager who will then hold their staff accountable to direction of Council.   Mammoth Lakes is currently an incorporated “General Law” city.  The Town of Mammoth Lakes could effectively reach its goal of meeting citizen needs by way of adopting a Charter as the Town of Mammoth’s constitution for all governing needs.

The link below “Charter Cities: A Quick Summary for the Press and Researchers” generated by the California League of Cities gives a good breakdown of a Charter City vs a common Law city.  In summary, a Charter city gives complete authority to the city government and exemplifies the city of state law.   Cities are General Law by default.   22% of all California cities are Charter Cities.  The Charter City provision is part of the State constitution and is based on the principle that a city rather than the state is in the best position to know what it needs.   The “Home rule” allows for Charter cities to control their government by way of a charter.

Mammoth Lakes needs to adopt a charter for governing purposes.  This will allow for the following changed;

  • Create Payment & Term Limits for Town Council Members to improve accountability.
  • Training to improve TOML to service orientation.  TOML employees should take pride in serving the citizens of Mammoth Lakes and doing what they can to facilitate the desires and goals of the community.
  • Create delivery systems which focus on Council that will work effectively with NGO to make sure there if follow through.
  • Delivery system institutionalizes accountability
  • Electing a Mayor
  • NGO partnerships & oversight: support of developing MLR, MLT, MLH
  • Cooperation with other govt. agencies (USFS, County, College, FAA, MCSD, etc.).
  • Accountability & transparency


CA Government Code addressing how to get to an elected Mayor:


Addresses council districts:


Great non-profit, California League of Cities:


For explanations & general info on CA cities governance, close to normal language:


Early Notes

The issue: Two people ran unopposed in the last election. The upcoming 2014 election has three councilmen stepping down. Starting in late 2013, a group of leaders and influential people in the community held weekly meetings for months that were advertised in the paper and have failed to produce qualified candidates. Even if candidates do step up to fill the empty seats, how can we expect of them the kind of commitment and independence and accountability that the job requires?

Possible solution: Perhaps it’s time to consider changing our municipal structure to allow for paying a significant stipend (if not a living wage) to key elected leaders.  Please see the following which has been excerpted from an email sent by the Town Attorney:

From: Matthew Lehman <>
Date: December 18, 2013 at 1:46:39 PM PST
To: “Kevin Green (” <>
Subject: increases


You had asked about means in which the town go about increasing salaries/stipends for Town Council members.   I pass the question on to our town attorney and here was his response.

There are three options here, which I’ll address in order from easiest to most complicated.

The easiest thing to do is to increase Council pay from $300 per month to $735 per month effective after the 2014 Council election.  You can do that with an ordinance.  State law (Government Code section 36516) caps Council pay at $300 per month for cities with populations under 35,000, but allows that amount to be increased 5% per year.  Since the Council has apparently been stuck at $300 per month since 1985, 29 years of 5% increases gets you to $735.  Increases can be compounded going forward, but not retroactively, which is why it’s only $735 and not a higher number.

The next option is to ask the voters to override the cap.  The same law that caps Council pay says that the voters can override the cap.  So you can ask the voters to approve an increase in Council pay to any amount you like.  There would be some costs to this, since we’d be adding a measure to the ballot, and we’d have to find out from the County how much that would cost.

The final option also requires voter approval.  This option would be to convert the Town from a “general law” town to a “charter” town.  Charter towns are exempt from some state laws, including the law capping Council member salaries.  About 25% of the cities in California are charter cities.  Asking to voters to approve this is complicated because the Town Council would need to draw up a proposed charter, which might spell out in which ways we would continue to follow state law and other areas where the Town would make its own rules.  That would require quite a bit of consideration about what powers the Town should have and what would appeal to voters.  A lot of the cities that adopted charters did that in order to get out of state prevailing wage requirements, but a new law is pretty much going to end the charter city exemption from prevailing wages.  Here is a link to the League of California Cities webpage on charter cities if you’d like more details:

Hope this helps.


Matthew T. Lehman





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