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LA MESA -- Watching the La Mesa government machine is truly a tale of two cities these days.
Professional city staff quietly goes about pretty sophisticated operations in efficient, laudatory ways, while the elected oversight can look more and more like a Balkan tragic comedy.
On Tuesday night, the professionals presented and passed with little comment a sweeping update of the city's long-term planning document, a General Plan that was the work of several years and plots a future for the city's development.
For its part, the gathered council members were welcoming this year's crop of young lovelies -- Miss La Mesa and Miss Teen La Mesa -- and gave the high-heeled lasses bouquets of flowers. Within minutes of their departure, the elected officials began arguing about whether the city should help them with their hair and makeup costs across a long year of appearances on the city's behalf.
Mayor Art Madrid had proposed spending $1,000 supporting the young beauty queens, but predictably, that raised the ire of council members who tend to oppose all Madrid proposals these days.
"I thought it was election year politicking to make this suggestion right now,'' said Council member Kristine Alessio. She went on to call the proposal "an insult to women,'' though she didn't explain how traipsing young girls around in short skirts, six inch heels and wearing Hollywood makeup isn't its own anachronism.
Madrid just muttered something about "small minds coming up with small ideas'' and the debate moved on to other areas as the beauty-queen stipend was tabled.
Over the course of the next three hours, the professionals reviewed plans for major construction projects and federal funding, while the council members continued a Kabucki theater in which Madrid made proposals and the other council members found ways to shoot them down or delay them.
A Madrid proposal that the city treat the new e-cigarettes with same disdain and limitations held for tobacco products -- a move being made in city after city across the state -- was met with a long and torturous debate, despite the presence of American Lung Association executives speaking on behalf of the proposal. At one point, City Councilwoman Ruth Sterling seemed to be trying out a Libertarian coat asking "Why can't the restaurants just decide for themselves what they want to do (with e-cigarettes)? Why does government have to drive everything?''
Moments later, however, Sterling was leading the charge to require anyone in the city who wants to raise chickens to keep at least two of them to avoid "lonely chickens.'' Her new-found Libertarian-ism had its limits.
In the end, the council decided to study the e-cigarette issue for up to another 90 days before deciding whether "vapers,'' as they are called, should be allowed to perfume public air with the new flavored puffs of nicotine gas.
On the chicken front, the council heard a first reading of the new ordinance that would allow the return of chickens to most of the city. Rather than limiting the number of chickens to one per 2,000 square feet of lot size, the council increased it to one chicken for every 1,000 feet to assure that residents of smaller lots could have at least two chickens to avoid isolating any of the very social foul.
Chickens had their supporters, including the adorable Tweet girls (see photo right). But several residents did speak against the chickens, saying the excrement draws flies and coyotes have been on the increase in chicken-cooped neighborhoods, killing the foul and dogs and cats.
Madrid was again on the losing end of a 4-1 vote. The mayor opposed the chicken move, saying La Mesa is too urban a city to have chickens without a lot of complaints and enforcement issues to come.
But the main event skirmish of the night was reserved for another Madrid proposal in which he suggested the council appoint him as the representative to the East County Economic Development Council.
For years Madrid had led the charge against spending money on that group, saying it had not accomplished anything for La Mesa. City Councilman Ernie Ewin had led the counter charge to join the organization and, at the council's last meeting, finally mustered the votes to overcome Madrid's opposition.
Madrid's proposal died without a second and Alessio quickly nominated Ewin for the ECEDC job.
That's when Sterling's chimed in with a Machiavellian twist this time, wondering aloud if putting Madrid on the ECEDC as he requested would guarantee a critical look at whether the group actually accomplishes anything for La Mesa.
No one bit and Ewin was installed, but not before Madrid tried to repeat his long-held criticisms of the ECEDC. Alessio tried to cut Madrid off, saying he was simply trying to re-litigate the council's decision earlier this month to join the economic group. Madrid persisted, telling Alessio he held the floor and would have his say.
Ewin was chosen with a 5-0 vote and Sterling was predicting he would give an honest assessment of the group's accomplishments and the council could decide whether enough was accomplished to defend joining again next year.
"It's going to be a one-year membership, I guarantee it,'' Madrid said.