Council members dispel panel myths
May 27, 2003
Time. It is something the four City Council members who addressed Leadership Lake Tahoe this month said they wish they had more of.
Before coming on board most said it was hard to fathom how much reading there would be, how many meetings they would attend, how many functions they would go to.
This job comes with a monthly paycheck of $400. So getting rich through legal, ethical channels is not a reward for the public scrutiny they must endure.
It was the ambulance issue in the early 1990s that got Mayor Judy Brown involved. She moved here in 1973, but did not attend council meetings until the city began wrestling with how best to provide ambulance service to residents.
Despite admitting to being nervous about addressing the council at the time, she was spurred to run in 1994. Even though she was unsuccessful in her first attempt, she knew enough to get on the Planning Commission to learn more.
“You’ll be successful if you are not a one issue person,” Brown said.
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After being elected to the council in 1996, Brown was re-elected four years later.
“The most challenging thing for me is budget issues,” she said. “I go through the budget line by line by line. This year we face big-time decisions.”
A multimillion dollar deficit is something the council must contend with, along with the state’s doling out fewer dollars and questionable accounting practices involving the council and Redevelopment Agency to the tune of $5 million.
Hal Cole’s roots run deep. His grandfather had a cabin in the Strawberry area in 1914. Cole became a full-time resident of South Lake Tahoe in 1959.
In November he was elected to his third four-year term, having first been on the Planning Commission. Redevelopment is the issue that got his attention.
“I thought starting redevelopment at Ski Run was wrong. I thought they should have started at the casinos and expanded,” Cole said. “I was frustrated and thought I could do better. I wanted to be part of the solution.”
He confessed it can be difficult to let things roll off his back — especially when he reads letters to the editor in the paper he believes are not true.
A widely held belief by citizens that council members come to the table knowing how they are going to vote was denied by Cole.
“I seldom come to council meetings with my mind completely made up,” he said.
Because he knows he may learn something from the audience, Cole said he wants to hear everything before hitting the yes or no button.
A contractor by trade, Cole recalls with disdain some of the odd regulations that his industry faced. South Tahoe Public Utility District once said new homes could only have two toilets. Cole, along with others, knew people would not be flushing any more often if they had 20 toilets — it was a matter of convenience.
Even though that regulation is no longer in effect, Cole said, “In construction it’s tough. This is one of the most regulated areas in the country.”
John Upton nodded his head in agreement. He was in construction from 1972-90. The South Tahoe High School graduate has an impressive resume of public service: 16 years as city treasurer, nine years on the Lake Tahoe Unified School District board, two terms on the Board of Supervisors, chamber president.
After having been out of public office since 1999, Upton threw his hat in the ring last year and the voters rewarded him with a seat on the council.
“I feel it’s a critical time in the city’s future,” he said as a reason for wanting to be back in a public forum.
One thing he advises any wannabe council members is to be a better listener than a talker.
“You’re never ready for all of the reading material,” Upton said. “You learn to allocate time.”
He touched on Cole’s sentiments about needing to be thick skinned.
“You’ll see your name in the paper and not always in a good light,” Upton said. “And it becomes a family issue if your spouse doesn’t like it.”
Kathay Lovell did not serve on any commissions before being elected last fall in her first bid. The political bug bit her after she was successful in getting Sheriff Jeff Neves elected.
“I can’t make the city what it was, but I can be instrumental in preserving the quality and improving it,” the 43-year resident said.
She admits the slew of acronyms that punctuate the dialogue at council meetings can make her head swim.
She, too, has been surprised by the volume of reading material. Not being self-employed or retired like her counterparts, the council job has necessitated she cut back her hours to part time.
Lovell echoed the others when it comes to casting a vote.
“I look at the risks, benefits and options before I make a decision,” she said.
Council meetings are the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd. beginning at 9 a.m.
Kathryn Reed may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 541-3880, ext. 251.