What’s Going On In La Mesa Politics?

 This will be an eventful year. A small band of political activists is drafting a surprising coda to the city’s centennial. Their mischief pushes the notion of voter sovereignty into the balance for the first time in the city’s history. 

 After nearly 25 years of failed experiments elsewhere, the flawed and still unproven notion of term limits is making an appearance on the November ballot in La Mesa. The initiative to add a term limits ordinance to city law follows a pattern well-established elsewhere: a few determined activists, clever language, an imaginary peril and deep pockets. 

 To see how that pattern plays in La Mesa, we can follow the money.   

 According to the initial Form 460 disclosure documents required by law, almost 97% percent ($9,748) of the financial contributions to the local term limits committee came from a single, sitting council member and her family.

 The signature gathering work was performed under contract by a professional political firm in La Jolla. The firm paid $1.25 to $1.50 for each signature, for a total of $8308 of the Committee’s initial budget. The activists’ claim that this was a “grassroots” effort is pure fiction. 

 Can you recall even a mention of term limits for La Mesa until this paid-in-full campaign started flogging the notion? The “people” did not clamor to have this regulation imposed on them and for good reason – they still cherish the right to freely vote their choices.

 The reality is that term limits are political junk food – they look OK, but are toxic to the body politic in the long run. Why? Because they do swift and enduring damage to our citizens’ most sacred right: the ability to exercise an unrestricted vote.

 The case for term limits relies on bunk history, acceptance of fantasy claims and a large dose of wishful thinking. Little wonder that term limits experiments have already been repealed or repudiated in six states. In La Mesa, there is no credible case for term limits at all. 

 What is going on then? 

 Well, some folks from the same small circle behind term limits are also advocating that the City Clerk position be removed from the ballot and filled by appointment. From ballot to government billet as it were. And these busy souls are now on record with the next goal: to make the office of mayor an unelected position that would rotate among members of the Council.

 Together with term limits, these proposed actions would result in three consecutive smackdowns of La Mesa voters. It appears we are about to experience an unprecedented, coordinated, and well-financed assault on the fundamental freedom of city voters to elect public officials of their own choosing. This is a cheerless prospect, with negative consequences for all of us.  

 Voting for civic officials is about more than strict accountability. It is about an engaged citizenry, a sense of ownership and community ties. These direct, familiar connections between citizens and city leadership help make La Mesa the special place that it is. To diminish them is to erode our civic culture. Given the rifts that divide our country today, does anyone seriously think that’s a good idea? And to what end? 

 La Mesans will likely see through this ill-considered, short-sighted demarche and preserve the integrity of the electoral process. We respect majority votes; we are wary of gimmickry. And perhaps most importantly, we prefer to vote our consciences freely – unrestricted by city ordinance, no matter how well-financed. We can start by defending our freedom to choose, with a firm No! to term limits.

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Tags: Government, La Mesa Today, Term Limits

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Comment by Kevin G George on July 25, 2014 at 2:16pm

Council seats are open every four years on a rotating basis, no one is required to run.

La Mesa has no "charter" to be changed, we are a general law City. 

Comment by David Smyle on July 25, 2014 at 2:11pm

Wrong!  If Ernie Ewin ran again, that's an automatic win as an incumbent.  If Mark A decided not to run for Mayor and run again for his seat, automatic win due to name recognition regardless of well he did or didn't do as a councilman.  No incumbent has lost an election in La Mesa since 1990!  That is all you need to know.  Mayor Madrid falling down drunk on the sidewalk in front of his house, re-elected.  Marion Berry gets caught doing coke, re-elected.  Congressman/woman kites a check, DUI et al re-elected, Bob Filner with a history of womanizing and strong arming, elected due to name recognition.

Unless you are thrown in jail or commit a felony, you get re-elected.

Comment by Don Wood on July 25, 2014 at 1:56pm

Each city council member, including the mayor, is required to run for reelection every four years. Any resident is free to run for office and if they convince voters that they can do a better job than the incumbent, they will be elected. If they don't they won't be. It's that simple and we don't need to change the city charter to give them a leg up. If anyone wants to run for city council there are currently two seats up for grabs. That doesn't tell me that potential candidates opportunities to run for office are in any way limited by our current system.

Comment by David Smyle on July 25, 2014 at 1:33pm

Take your head out of the sand Don.  Pension costs will only get worse in the future and there is no way we are going to be able to pay for them without another tax increase and even that may not cover it.  Do some research and find out how many city employees, fire fighters, and police personnel will be retiring in the next ten years and then look at their salaries now and say increase them by 3% a year and look at how many $100K  a year pensions the Citizens will be paying in addition to the 10 or so we are paying now and that is just the $100K people.  Ask Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino how pension deficits worked out.  You really think we are any different?  Even now after a supposed 5 years of recovery, we are just breaking even on the budget without payments to the past pension deficit.  Wait till the new health care premiums hit the city's books.

Glad you like the new fire, police and library buildings.  None of them are revenue generators or even revenue neutral

Comment by Kevin G George on July 25, 2014 at 1:28pm

Hate Don, really?

A classic method to shut down the conversation is throwing the hate card. Once one has been deemed a hater, even without evidence, one is supposed to be silent.

Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't make them a hater, they just have a different opinion that you perceive as hate.

Speaking of which, was that an example of your love talk this morning re the "right wing bookstore owner" and his gullible and easily lead accomplice on the Council?

Hate indeed.

Comment by Scott H. Kidwell on July 25, 2014 at 1:14pm

Many of those opposed to the voters having a say on term limits assume the public is too feeble minded, or worse, to understand the concept and decide for themselves on its merits. They hide their head in the sand and ignore the overwhelming evidence of the power that grows and grows with incumbency. From what I’ve heard, the opposition effort is being promoted and funded by a 30 year incumbent city leader who has a group of crony cling-on’s standing to lose much influence if the La Mesa Term Limits measure passes. Thankfully, La Mesa voters will be the ones to decide on this issue. It is painfully obvious that to all, except those who will not see, many politicians manipulate the system to retain their power. Even behavior that would land Joe citizen in the pokey is over powered by incumbency. True equity to the many who would like a fair opportunity to run for elected office strongly suggests La Mesa Term Limits be fairly evaluated.

Comment by Don Wood on July 25, 2014 at 1:04pm

By the way, I am also happy with the new city police station, and the fact that the police cars our officers drive are well maintained. I wouldn't care if the city stopped contributing to the ECEDC, and don't see any reason that the city should subsidize the local chamber of commerce, since C of C members have plenty of money to run that organization. Corporate welfare is not by bag. If I have any problems with the Helix Water District, I can walk to their board meetings and let them know, instead of leaning on the city council to do that for me. If I have any concerns about how the city operates, I can email or call individual city council members and express my concerns. I believe that is a better way of expressing my concerns than having the city council appoint some new advisory group at taxpayer expense.

Comment by Don Wood on July 25, 2014 at 12:50pm

I am happy with our streets, especially when I have to drive over potholes in the city of San Diego. Streets in west La Mesa are currently getting new slurry seals and streets are regularly repaved on the city's maintenance schedule.  I am happy with the new La Mesa central fire station. I am happy with the city's new central library and post office. I look forward to the city selling the old police station site for development and using the profits to build a new city hall and park complex, finishing our new civic center. I am happy that the mayor and city council members are responsible enough to convince voters to temporarily increase sales taxes to help the city get through the recession. I am happy with the job that our city workers do and don't believe that things would improve if we eliminated the city's pension plan, or took pension and healthcare away from current employees and retirees. I do not base my own happiness on making other people's lives miserable, like some people.  As the economy recovers and city revenues increase, I hope that the city council will use those additional revenues to address employee pension costs, but I don't think that we have a "pension deficit" since most employee pension liabilities won't become effective until employees actually retire. Current pension costs should be addressed and future pension costs should be planned for, but trying to panic residents to convince them to eliminate city employee pensions and healthcare that were promised to them when they went to work for the city is counterproductive. My happiness is not driven by hate.

Comment by Kevin G George on July 25, 2014 at 12:07pm

Either way folks, "I wonder if this city council member is also a La Mesa voter?" is what they call a rhetorical question.  A question to make a point rather than one seeking an answer.

Comment by David Smyle on July 25, 2014 at 11:24am

I guess you are happy with the $60M unfunded pension liability then Don and the Mayors attempt to take down not only the La Mesa Village Merchants Assoc but also the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce.  I guess you are happy with paying hundreds of thousands in Sewer fines.  I guess you are happy the City Council does't stand up to the HWD to speak out against unwarranted rate increases as one of the largest water users in the District.  I guess you are happy with the condition of the streets.  I guess you are happy with municipal pool which the Mayor called a "rathole" even though he has had 30 years to do something about it and could have used all the money he spend on travel to fix it all by himself.  I guess you are happy the Mayor goes around a council vote on his own to get his way.  I guess you are happy the council has made no changes of substance to the employee benefit and pension packages.  I guess you are happy the Council will spend thousands on memberships in the ECEDC which cannot show any actual benefit to La Mesa but won't spend a dime to help fund its own Chamber of Commerce.  I guess you are happy with the .75% sales tax increase that was supposed to go to improve City services but all it did was pay for employee pensions and even then we still are in the hole.  Tell me Don.  What exactly has the City Council done over the last say 10 years that you are happy about?  What have they done as "Part Time" positions getting full time benefits that has earned them the right to continue to stay in office forever?  What forward thinking ideas and actions have they done or proposed that has increased revenue in La Mesa or cut expenses?  When has this City Council proposed a Citizens committee to regularly meet with the Council to brainstorm thoughts and ideas other than Town Hall meetings where everyone complains (and many of them rightly so) about issues in the own back yards?

Tell me Don about all the wonderful things this Council has done in the last 20 years 1994-2014 that stands out in your mind as helping move the City forward.  Crickets!

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