Forum staff depart second home |

Forum staff depart second home

Patrick McCartney

After 10 weeks of burning the candle at both ends, weary federal employees who planned the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum packed up Wednesday, preparing to leave Lake Tahoe and return home.

The core group of a dozen employees, plucked from federal agencies across the West, were packing boxes and filing final-hour reports before closing the Presidential Visit Coordination Center in South Lake Tahoe.

They are scheduled to shut the center’s doors today, but said leaving will not be easy.

“You always have bittersweet feelings after something like this,” said Phil Bayles, a regional Forest Service spokesman from San Francisco who spearheaded much of the planning effort. “You’re leaving the people, the activity and the excitement, but you miss your home, too.”

Since two months of intensive planning climaxed Saturday with the president’s visit, the staff has attended a few farewell parties and begun to unwind.

Linda Massey, the spokeswoman for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Unit, brought her cat, Salty, to the center Wednesday, where he wandered the room as the staff packed up.

“This day is so loose I even brought my baby,” Massey said.

Connie Gill, a Forest Service spokeswoman, checked the e-mail messages waiting for her in Redding when she returns to the Pacific Southwest Research Station. Tapping into her messages by remote modem, she found 341 messages had piled up in just the last four weeks of the two months she was assigned to the presidential forum.

“I’ve got to catch up now. I have all this work waiting for me when I go home,” Gill said.

She did not have a day off in the last four weeks, and was putting in 14 to 18 hours a day, Gill said. Even so, she said she would miss Lake Tahoe.

“The people here became family, and I would love to stay in Lake Tahoe,” Gill said. “This was our home away from home, and the people from Lake Tahoe were great to us. We’ve made friends.”

Yet, even as the staff prepared to head home, last-minute details had to be taken care of.

John Ong, who left his job of streamlining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office in San Francisco, was preparing a list of center employees who were the essential planning staff.

“I’m preparing a roster of who worked here, so the president can thank them in a letter,” Ong said. While the total number of people who passed through the center exceeded 50, Ong said he had developed criteria to single out the core staff.

“There were a lot of people who were in and out, but we listed people if they were here for at least a week working on different tasks,” he said. Using that definition, Ong identified 25 planners who will be receiving a letter from the White House.

Ruth Piotrowski, a Bureau of Land Management employee from Reno, said she also had mixed feelings as she prepared to leave Lake Tahoe.

“I feel good, but sad,” said Piotrowski, who worked with Gill to prepare lists of Tahoe Basin residents who had asked to attend the various events of the presidential forum. This was an opportunity that doesn’t come very often.”

One of the benefits of the president’s visit, and the Cabinet-level workshops that preceded it, was the new familiarity with Lake Tahoe by the federal government, she said.

“It’s given us a whole new appreciation for the basin,” Piotrowski said. “We’ve already seen positive things come from this.”

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