Jennifer Montgomery and Cindy Gustafson have served as public powerhouses in North Tahoe for years. Like two suns circulating the same solar system, giving light in their own special ways, both women have served vital public roles that have had tangible impacts on the community in recent years.
Earlier this year, the call came for Montgomery to move up to statewide public life: She accepted an appointment from Gov. Gavin Newsom as director of the Forest Management Task Force, moving on from her role as Placer County District 5 supervisor. Gustafson, meanwhile, was selected as her replacement.
Gustafson has held numerous roles during her 35 years in Tahoe: general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD), CEO at the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association (NLTRA), and board member for the Tahoe Fund, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, and the Lake Tahoe Federal Advisory Committee to name a few.
Now Gustafson is in a unique position: As District 5 supervisor, she finds herself on the very board that in 2017 cut funding to NLTRA, the organization she departed.
Holding such titles as CEO of the NLTRA and county supervisor means crossing paths more than once, and Montgomery and Gustafson ended up in many rooms together during Gustafson’s 26-year career at the TCPUD (eight of which she was general manager).
When Gustafson came to the NLTRA in mid-2017 as the board-appointed CEO, her instances of shoulder-rubbing with supervisors only increased — particularly in relation to the NLTRA cutbacks.
“The resort association was and is absolutely phenomenal at doing marketing and getting heads on beds and doing all that kind of stuff,” Montgomery said, referring to the NLTRA’s shift from a marketing-transportation-capital projects organization to a strictly marketing one.
“They were incredibly good as well at bringing forward recommendations to the county on transit and infrastructure projects. But the county, frankly, had the depth of experience of actually building and implementing the transportation and infrastructure projects.”
Montgomery boiled down the reason for movement of those powers and funding from the NLTRA to the county to superfluous money swapping: The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) was being collected, remitted to the county, sent to the NLTRA (which would make recommendations on dollar use), and then often sent right back to the county to implement projects.
“Unfortunately, any time money changes hands, a little bit of it gets used up as an administrative fee,” explained Montgomery. “So it just made more sense at the end of the day for the county to still utilize the resort association for their local knowledge and recommendations around particular projects, but … to have the county hang on to the money and do the projects because we were doing the bulk of them.”
(To read more about the background of shifting funds between the NLTRA and Placer County, check out our coverage in Placer County Powerhouse in Moonshine’s February 2018 issue.)
But Gustafson insists there’s no bad blood.
“In transitioning to that [resort association] job, I understood what I was getting into there and that it was a controversial time,” Gustafson said. “Finding a pathway towards a business improvement district was where the board and I were focused. When you’re solving problems and trying to raise more money, it brings collaboration. You can look forward in a positive direction versus living in the past over what disagreements there’d been.”
Montgomery reflected Gustafson’s thoughts, citing her now-replacement as being “fairly sanguine or okay with the changed relationship between the county and the resort association” when Gustafson was CEO.
Steve Teshara, another former NLTRA CEO, said Gustafson had thought of running for a board of supervisors position for a long time, and that potential opportunity was always in the back of her mind, even during the resort association scale-back.
He sees her shift to the county as a positive thing. “Now you have somebody on the board of supervisors who really does understand the resort association,” Teshara said.
Montgomery spent 10-plus years as supervisor over the county’s largest district, including locations north and west of Lake Tahoe (see Placer county District 5 geographic borders above). Initially elected in 2008, then re-elected in 2012 and 2016, she announced March 6 of this year that she’d be moving up at the governor’s request. After the announcement, 22 applicants stepped forward, eager to fill her spot. Gustafson was the top candidate, “the right choice” to Montgomery.
Her only concern, Montgomery said, is Gustafson connecting with people throughout District 5 successfully by the time the next election rolls around.
“I know there are going to be folks from the Auburn area and the west side who are challenging her,” Montgomery said. “I’m hoping that she’s really out making those connections and having the conversations and meeting with people and going to all these very far flung communities in District 5.”
Gustafson is already thinking about 2020, explaining that the opportunity to apply for the county seat without the election process was a good opportunity, and that she’s already working her way into the next election. But in a politically transitional era with poll-defying candidates on all levels of government, anything goes. “Hopefully I’ll be successful,” Gustafson said.
Teshara certainly thinks she will be. He and Gustafson have known each other since the 1980s, interfacing with one another’s committees and careers.
“Cindy’s background is extraordinary even for a seasoned elected official because she’s done so many things,” Teshara said. “And typically, when people get elected to elected office, they don’t have that kind of background.”
Gustafson and Montgomery haven’t had much time to connect since jumping into their new positions. Most of that took place before Gustafson applied for the county seat. Since then, she’s relied on county staff and aides.
“Jennifer’s learning her whole new job as well,” Gustafson said. “She’s been very busy with her new position, but she’s been very gracious in helping me consider [whether I was] doing the right thing to consider the appointment. I appreciate that very much.”
As for Gustafson’s switching sides of the track from the belt-tightened NLTRA to the Placer County powerhouse, Montgomery thinks the experience will have some relevance to her successor.
“But … as I always reminded people, there are five [supervisors] and I’m one vote,” she said. “Whatever perspective Cindy may or may not have … she’s still got four other people to try to convince to see things her way or not.”
Gustafson is whistling a similar tune: “We can all have our own individual opinions, but in public service, you’ve really got to look for the commonality and the majority. That’s what our whole system of democracy is based on and it’s that balance of serving the public and addressing their needs.” With Gustafson’s deep roots and many roles in the community, perhaps that balance will shift toward different priorities.
Goodbye to Goodwin
Truckee’s Vice Mayor Morgan Goodwin announced on June 11 his departure from the town council and from Truckee in August, as he is planning to follow his partner to Los Angeles.
Sure, job prospects are mingled — they’d have to be for someone like Goodwin, who’s driven to improve the world around him. L.A. is a big place, and Goodwin sees its similarities to Truckee, with an openness to new ideas and an urge in the community to solve problems. But the immediate instigator is that L.A. is the city his partner has chosen to begin her screenwriting career, and Goodwin is going with her.
He’s “really trying to prioritize,” Goodwin told Moonshine Ink. “[It’s] super important to align with my partner and be clear on that, make sure that we were both excited about this.”
Goodwin’s passions for housing and traffic congestion mitigation are guiding his job search, and so far he’s shaken many virtual hands to explore his options.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be happiest working for a private housing developer building more dense housing around transit stops,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be more happy working for [a] city or county sustainability department, working on the overall plans. It might be working for a nonprofit that does policy advocacy.”
And maybe one day, public office again. He’s served on the Truckee Town Council since 2014 in roles of council member, vice mayor, and mayor, so eventually running as an elected official isn’t out of the question.
“You get a vacuum, and somebody’s going to fill those seats,” Goodwin said. “Somebody’s going to get elected to the 600,000 positions across the country. Who’s that going to be? I’m not claiming to be the best and the brightest, [but] if I can do a better job than the next guy, the public should hire me to do the job.”
But first Goodwin must leave Truckee behind.
“It’s like the crossroads,” he said, referring to the town. “Spine of the Sierra Nevada and then the spine of Interstate 80, and between these two things, we’re right in the crosshairs of where you want to be.”
Though he’s sad to be leaving, Goodwin said he feels good leaving Truckee in the direction it’s going.
“We’re having much better conversations about how stuff works together,” he said. “The fact that we’re having those conversations here in town and having them really well is far and away the thing I’m most excited about for Truckee going forward, and the reason I feel like we’re in such a good place.”
Goodwin’s last meeting will be Aug. 13. On June 25, the Town Council unanimously decided to appoint Goodwin’s replacement through an application process and two-council member committee, each of the remaining council members and mayor noting the importance of bringing someone on before March 2020, when a special election could be held.
“I feel like waiting until next March and having only four of us would be detrimental,” said council member Jessica Abrams during the meeting.
Abrams and fellow council member David Polivy will serve as committee members, and plan to work with town staff during the application and review process. As discussed during that June 25 meeting, the council is anxious for someone to be selected and in place by Aug. 27 or Sept. 10.
“[We want] someone who’s going to show up, to be willing to say, ‘Hey, I’ll do it, I’m here, and I love this community,’” Abrams said.
That’s all Goodwin really wants — someone who will be excited to progress the Truckee community. He referenced the most recent election in November, citing seven people running for three spots.
“To me, that’s just an indication that there’s a lot of energy and there’s a lot of people who are more interested in public service, more interested in these sorts of roles than ever before,” Goodwin said. “Let’s continue to bring in more people, bring in more leadership. Let’s expand the number of people that are leaders in this town.”
Other Notable Movements
Kim Snyder with North Tahoe Arts recently announced her departure from her executive director role. Snyder initially came on as an interim option, then extended for over two years. Notable accomplishments include absorbing a 120% increase in rent, depositing $10,000 into NTA’s emergency savings, and creating new income streams (donation wall and guest artist wall).
Incline Village General Improvement District (IVGID) General Manager Steven Pinkerton shared his resignation as general manager, his last day will be in September. During his tenure, Pinkerton guided IVGID through infrastructure improvements, financial planning and transparency initiatives, and community engagement, earning the district a 90% favorability score among property owners.
Michael Holley, general manager for 12 years of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, will be retiring in July 2020, though wheels are already in motion for his replacement. The public will play a role in the new hire, ranking skills most important to them. The TDPUD will use those skills for selecting a new GM. Until his departure, Holley will focus on staff development and making sure his staff will be comfortable under new leadership.
Washoe County is currently conducting a national search for the next Washoe County manager. The firm Ralph Andersen & Associates will head the search, planning to return to the board July 23 with additional updates and a timeline. In the meantime, Assistant County Manager Dave Solaro will serve as interim county manager.
RELATED STORY: Placer County Powerhouse