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LA MESA -- At its last regular meeting, the City Council let die without a second a proposal by Mayor Art Madrid to seek national All-American City status for this city.
At Tuesday night's meeting, council members learned the effort is going on without them.
Madrid, under questions from fellow council members, acknowledged he is leading a consortium of community groups -- including the city's Interfaith Council -- to seek the designation without official city involvement.
Clearly annoyed by Madrid's efforts, council members questioned City Manager David Witt to assure no city staff was helping with the effort and also quizzed City Attorney Glenn Sabine to delineate the mayor's authority to engage in an effort expressly rejected by the council majority.
Witt assured all he was monitoring staff's efforts to be in line with the council majority's direction. Sabine said the mayor, like any council member, has the First Amendment right to pursue any issue, but can't expend city resources without council approval. Madrid said his All-American City effort would raise any fund necessary to pay for the application.
This contretemps was just the latest joust between Madrid and what has become a more unified council majority -- unified, that is, to oppose Madrid efforts and to assure the mayor come to the council for permission before taking actions that can be interpreted as city sanctioned.
In an otherwise routine meeting, virtually all of the intrigue involved procedural issues dealing with the council members desire to rein in the city's long-serving mayor and assert the council's authority.
The council did hear from its finance team on the state of the city's economic health -- still improving slowly after the recession. The police chief also gave his quarterly report; violent crime continues to drop, while property crimes continue to rise slightly, probably due to an increased local population of early state prison parolees.
But the regular business of the council was routine and quickly dispatched, while the council lingered over the latest tussles with Madrid.
Late in the two-hour meeting, Council member Ernie Ewin proposed a new regulation which would require Madrid to ask permission of the council before joining any outside government committees or subcommittees.
Madrid, who has long ties to regional, state and national government organizations, had been invited in the past to join a variety of intergovernmental efforts that would sometimes require Madrid travel to out of town meetings. Ewin wanted the council to control which of these efforts the city invested in. Madrid argued that invitations to many of these influential committees are competitive and the city's opportunities would be lost if he had to wait for council approval. He noted most of these appointments paid his expenses for attending the meetings.
When the question was called, Ewin's motion passed 4-1 with Madrid alone in opposition.
Heading into an election year, it is becoming increasingly clear that Madrid won't find much support among the other four council members.
Having stripped Madrid of his most honored representation with the San Diego Association of Governments and now requiring approval of any formal outside efforts, the council majority is making it clear the council will use all of its authority to counter Madrid's independence.
The newest council member, Kristine Alessio, still in her first term, is jousting directly with Madrid too, both in the meetings and in the community. Alessio and her family members are listed as contributing virtually all of the more than $8,000 fueling the signature gathering of the La Mesa Term Limit effort. The paid signature gatherers, in trying to persuade voters to support the effort, are bluntly describing the petition as an effort to "get rid of Art Madrid.''
Still, even after yet another 4-1 vote against him, Madrid said he was unfazed. "It just gets me going,'' he said. He was immediately out meeting with church groups and Rotary Club members, as well as members of Fair Trade La Mesa, building his coalition to seek national recognition for La Mesa's civic achievements in pursuing health initiatives, bike paths and creating safe routes for walking to school among other efforts.
After more than three decades in local politics, Madrid clearly sees this year's political campaign playing out more in the streets and neighborhoods and less in the chilly confines of the council chambers.
And still, no one has publicly said they will oppose the mayor's re-election.
"Not yet,'' was Ewin's two-word answer to the question of whether he would make a run.
Council members Mark Arapostathis and Kristine Alessio have been equally coy about their plans.
The council next gathers on Feb. 18th at 6:30 p.m. at Northmont Elementary School for a Town Hall meeting. The photo above was from last week's Town Hall meeting in Rolando.