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LA MESA -- Tuesday afternoon's gathering of the La Mesa City Council was, from a purely news perspective, a pretty light gruel.
Local proponents of medical marijuana came in with enough signatures to force a referendum in 2014 and featured a talk by local canabis supporter Vey Linville (see photo above), speaking with the aid of oxygen, adding that "I drink canabis medicine so I can breathe.''
What followed was a long, drawn out discussion that led to the legal inevitability -- that there will be a public vote on the issue in 2014.
But at this first meeting after the 2012 election, local politics watchers might easily have been convinced that they were watching the first events of the 2014 mayoral campaign. At this meeting it was open season on Mayor Art Madrid.
In fact, the marijuana vote was a harbinger of how the rest of this meeting would go. Council member Ruth Sterling, who had begun the meeting shyly expressing shock at being the highest vote-getter in the recent election, led a 4-1 vote that rejected Madrid's stated desire to have a full analysis of the issue conducted by the city's attorney before deciding whether to approve the vote.
Then for the rest of the evening, the council and a series of speakers, raked Madrid over the coals for a variety of issues that generally might be described as Madrid acting independently from his council.
Local residents Kevin George, Scott Kidwell, David Smyle, Bill Jaynes and Craig Maxwell -- all outspoken critics of Madrid -- trotted to the microphone to talk about an item put on the agenda by City Councilman Ernie Ewin, one of the two council members often rumored to have mayoral ambitions of his own.
The item ostensibly had to do with Ewin seeking legal guidance from City Attorney Glenn Sabine on the legal distinctions between mayoral proclamations and declarations, but the real issue was Madrid's actions which his critics saw as a sneaky "end run" around the council's desire to stay out of the "Fair Trade" debate.
More than a year ago, the council had voted 3-2 against a Madrid effort to officially declare La Mesa a "Fair Trade" city. Two local women had been working for months to teach La Mesans to buy products that have been certified to having been obtained through a process that treated and paid the product's original producers fairly.
Though the city support would only be symbolic, the idea raised the ire of a number of local people who didn't like the proposal or didn't think the city should be weighing in on subjects it had little hope of truly influencing.
Facing similar hesitancy around the country, the Fair Trade organization changed the actions required to make a city worthy of the "Fair Trade" label. Rather than requiring an official vote of the legislative body, the group said a declaration of support from the city's mayor would suffice.
Madrid readily complied and, much to the chagrin of his detractors, encouraged Fair Trade USA to declare La Mesa a "Fair Trade" city, something his own council was unwilling to do.
Sabine, the city attorney, acknowledged that the mayor, in fact, has the right to make any declaration or proclamation he deems worthy, but that that alone didn't make it an "official act of council.''
And Madrid encouraging "Fair Trade" to make the official declaration on its own set off the fireworks among each of a series of speakers who have come to be seen as a choir of Madrid haters.
"The mayor's declaration may be legal,'' said Kevin George, ''But it was clearly an effort to thwart his council's action. He treats La Mesa like it is his own town and we just happen to live here.''
Craig Maxwell, who lost in his race against Madrid two elections ago, was still fighting his opponent. Giving his remarks a title -- Common Sense and Decency -- the book store owner said "Art didn't like the result and he found a clever way to do an end run, undermining his own council.''
Maxwell again went on to compare this injustice to the injustice done to his parents some years back when the family's property was taken under eminent domain by the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
"How much did they get for it?'' local resident Dexter Levy interrupted from the gallery, stopping Maxwell's saga in midstream.
Madrid actually came to Maxwell's aid, telling him he didn't need to answer that question. He didn't.
After the public was done pillorying Madrid, his council members continued it with Sterling casting about trying to come up with an answer to what she described as "this mess Art got us into.''
Sterling said she wanted Sabine to send a letter to Fair Trade USA telling the organization the council did not vote to declare La Mesa a "Fair Trade'' city and to caution them against using the city's seal for any purpose.
The council avoided a vote on Sterling's effort by simply agreeing to let Sabine draft a letter the council members can consider sending after the next meeting.
The effort to rein in Madrid then continued as Ewin continued his quixotic but increasingly humorous effort to find the signed softball and plaque that was given to the city a decade ago by the triumphant La Mesa Senior Olympics Softball Championship team.
Madrid has said he had no memory of the award, but Ewin displayed on the meeting overhead a photo showing Madrid receiving the awards.
After Tuesday's meeting, Madrid was asked if night's like this ever made him feel like it is time to give up the post and retire?
"Not at all,'' he said, adding this had the feel of a campaign kick-off.
Madrid, who has been mayor for more than two decades, said he intends to stay until he can get a new City Hall built and he won't be discouraged by criticism from a small group of men whose political acumen was displayed when they backed Laura Lothian in this year's council campaign. Lothian came in last.
"There's just five of them,'' Madrid said. ". . . Neanderthals.''