Bishop Union High School and the Bishop City Council collaborated earlier this week to encourage student awareness, understanding and involvement related to municipal government.
The collaboration took the form of the first-ever Council on Campus event, a special meeting of the City Council held at 10 a.m. Monday in the BUHS auditorium. The meeting replaced the City Council’s usual study session at City Hall, held at 4 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of every month.
Mayor Laura Smith, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Stottlemyre, City Council members Susan Cullen and Jeff Griffiths, and City Attorney Peter Tracy established a relaxed atmosphere while answering questions on topics ranging from sports fields and fine arts class cuts to the status of Cottonwood Plaza, allocation of city funds, and escalating gas prices.
Smith said of the 140 seniors and the Skills for Success students who were in attendance, “I hope this opens the door for kids to become more involved in city government and in the entire community. The City Council makes decisions about every aspect of community affairs and they can be involved, too. My (Medical Assisting class) students always ask, ‘What do you do there?’ This is an opportunity for them to find out. We can let them know, ‘You can make a difference.’”
Senior class president Taylor Hartshorn led the Pledge of Allegiance to open the study session, which Smith explained would be “a little more informal” than regular sessions. She explained Council meeting procedure, introduced officials and encouraged student comment about “anything within reason” during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“Now that many of you are 18 years old and can vote, we want you to know that we are elected by you to represent you,” said Smith.
After department reports by Police Chief Chris Carter, Public Works Superintendent Deston Dishion and City Administrator and Community Services Director Keith Caldwell, students were invited to ask questions and give opinions in the public comment portion of the Council meeting.
Luis Salgado was first up to the podium. Salgado asked why more of our city funds are “used on streets and not on our schools?” Griffiths explained that while city funds maintain services like police and fire protection and streets and parks, “public education is funded by a mix of state and local property tax revenue.” He added that the city works with the schools to build soccer and softball fields and maintain safe sidewalks and curbs along routes children take to school.
Billy Stinnett asked about “gas prices continuing to go up” and wondered “what’s going on overseas?” Stottlemyre fielded that far-reaching topic. “(Gas prices) are a result of free enterprise.”
Smith offered local solutions that might mitigate rising gas prices, reminding students that “when people have banded together to use less gas, it (drove) prices down.” She encouraged, “all of us, City Council members included, to ride bikes and walk whenever they are able.”
Smith also mentioned that ongoing projects like Warren Street Improvements will provide “safe alternative routes for bikes.” Griffiths added, “Bike paths between the Bishop Indian Reservation and elementary school will make biking easier.”
Jennah Seaver asked, “How do you work with the Bishop Indian Reservation. Are they a separate entity?” Griffiths explained that many people don’t realize that the City of Bishop is only two square miles and that “the Reservation is a sovereign entity. But we are always looking for ways to partner with the Tribe in any way possible” – the aforementioned bike path project, for example.
Nic Hilton wondered, “What’s the deal with the new soccer field at the city park?” Caldwell agreed, “There are not enough sports fields. We are partnering with schools to build three new ball fields” where the park borders Sterling Heights on East Pine.
Caldwell also reported that tennis courts, an arboretum, walking paths, a hockey park, and a dog park are all in various stages of planning. “Parks and Recreation wants to create a youth council to develop improvements and get ideas.” Resident artist and videographer Skandar Reid spearheaded the project that resulted in the new Bocce ball court at the city park, added Smith.
Tracy further explained that Transient Occupancy Tax (otherwise known as bed tax), sales tax and a small portion of property taxes are the city’s major source of revenues and “City Council must balance who wants what and how to fund it.”
When Tim McMullen asked why fine arts, photography and Skills for Success are being cut from the BUHS curriculum, Griffiths explained that those classes are offered by Inyo County Office of Education not the city. He informed the students that Bishop’s Park and Recreation Department offers a schedule of classes 365 days a year. Information can be found on the city’s website, ca-Bishop.us, and added that “if (students) have ideas for new classes, let us know.”
Matt Babb asked about the vacant Cottonwood Plaza shopping center on North Main Street. “What’s going on there and what’s going in there?” The plaza was purchased one-and-a-half years ago. Due to a death in the family, plans for the plaza were postponed until recently. Public Works and the new owner are making plans to rehabilitate the building and recruit local tenants. “It’s on the horizon,” concluded Caldwell.
The final question came from Joy Walders who asked, “If a business wants to move in that might inhibit the flow of other businesses, can (the City Council) say yea or nay?” Griffith explained that if the space in question “is private property, its owner has final say. But our zoning laws are pretty business friendly,” regulating the size, location and nature of new businesses allowed in certain areas.
Although more students had questions for the Council, Smith closed the public comment session to ensure that students had time for their lunch break.
Smith then introduced BUHS senior and Bronco wrestler Jaime Ruelas, winner of the CIF Championship in the Coastal Division’s 170-pound weight class. “He is the only two-time CIF champion,” said coach Dr. Mark Hodges. Ruelas previously won a CIF title as a junior for football. Smith described Ruelas as representing “an elite level of athleticism.” She added, “To give anything less than your best is to waste a gift and you’re not (wasting yours).”
After Police Officer Brent Gillespie briefly reported on German shepherd X-Ray, the only police K-9 officer in Inyo and Mono counties, and the nine remaining agenda items were discussed, Smith closed the meeting with a quote from Winston Churchill, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
As added incentive to encourage youth involvement in city government, Stottlemyre announced two new annual $500 scholarships sponsored by Coso Geothermal and Dale Comontofski of Preferred Septic & Disposal. Any BUHS senior who attends three City Council meetings and writes an essay about them is eligible to compete. Stottlemyre mentioned that two more similar scholarships are in the works.
When asked for their parting impressions of the meeting as they filed out of the auditorium, BUHS student Abby Rossi said, “It was awesome.” Classmate Chance Callahan observed, “The City Council people were much more personable than I expected.” Ryan Allred concluded that it was “definitely interesting.”