Commission Seat Draws Interest, Intrigue

LA MESA -- The road to elected office in La Mesa most often includes service on the volunteer boards and commissions that are part of the local government machinery. Tuesday evening there was no shortage of residents looking to serve the community, including two people who lost the recent City Council election and a local business leader.

Both Shannon O'Dunn and Patrick Dean, who lost out to Ruth Sterling and Kristine Alessio in November's election, have asked to fill Alessio's vacated seat on the City's influential Planning Commission. Also, Mary England, the executive director of the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, has asked the council to consider her to replace Alessio. England failed in her bid in November to win a state Assembly seat.

In addition to Dean, O'Dunn and England, local residents Noah Alvey and Dan Way have asked to be considered for Alessio's Commission seat.

The eventual successor to Alessio is decided by a vote of the City Council, which could make for some interesting political dynamics. A seat on this commission was a precursor to eventual moves to the council by long-time Mayor Art Madrid (pictured above right) and current Council members Ernie Ewin and now Alessio.

England (pictured right), who heads the local chamber, has been feuding with Madrid, who has refused to attend chamber ribbon cuttings and fundraisers for more than a year now. In the wake of her strong, but unsuccessful showing in the Assembly race, some have considered England a potential opponent for Madrid if he chooses to seek re-election in 2014. Madrid says he is running. England says she hasn't thought about it.

"I work in the community and I know and like the people of La Mesa,'' England says. "I just finished the Assembly race so I haven't even started contemplating another race. I saw the Planning Commission job as a good opportunity for public service.''

England used the opportunity to address council Tuesday night to clear up questions about her residency that her application raised. England's application listed her residence as La Mesa since 2010, but she was serving as a City Council member in Lemon Grove during that time. England said she had two residences during that time, including one in Lemon Grove, but listed only the La Mesa residency on the La Mesa application. Elected officials are required to live within the jurisdiction they are representing.

Ewin, who has been playing a countervailing force to Madrid on the Council in recent months, was not tipping his hand after hearing from the Planning Commission applicants. "I will vote for the person I believe can do the best job for the city,'' Ewin said. "Politics has nothing to do with this.''

England is meeting today in a strategic retreat with the La Mesa Chamber's Board of Directors and her relationship with Madrid could come up there. England and Madrid had a public falling out after England appeared at a City Council meeting and appeared to be supporting a group of merchants who were criticizing efforts to establish a Property Based Improvement District for the La Mesa Village, an effort Madrid has supported for years.

Since then, Madrid has been absent at chamber events a mayor normally would attend, including the recent investiture of new chamber board members. Other City Council members have been showing the flag at those events in Madrid's absence.

In addition to the Planning Commission applicants, the council also received three applications for two seats on the Aging and Veterans Commission including local residents Erik Collins, Frances Galvin and Robert Jacoby.

There were six applicants for two positions on the Environmental Sustainability Commission including April Bright, Jeffrey Bristow, Maria Hesse, Lisa Mansfield, Stuart Strenger and Genevieve Suzuki.

Erik Collins also applied for the seat on the Personnel Appeals Board.






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