Big Problems, Little Fights

LA MESA -- One way to watch a long City Council meeting is to relate the events you are seeing to classic themes in literature or famous movies. Les Miserables. Tale of Two Cities. I Claudius. The Guns of Navarone.

Tuesday's Council meeting, for example, might have been titled The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. What started as a virtual celebration of the many good people who volunteer to help the city run (that's the good) quickly traipsed through a pretty dour look at the city's finances (that's the bad) and ended with the ugly, another quixotic tussle between the city's long serving mayor, Art Madrid, and his equally long-time antagonist Councilman Ernie Ewin.

First the good.

The council conducted informal interviews with local residents who were volunteering to serve on the many commissions and boards the city counts on to manage activities and services in the Jewel of the Hills.

One by one, amazingly overqualified people -- a rocket scientist, two architects, a city planning expert and an heroic senior advocate, to name a few -- stood and gave a pitch for their appointment to committees that will donate hundreds of hours of effort toward public service. One local woman (see photo above) showed off a piñata she is making from recycling receipts earned while picking up trash around the city.

One new La Mesa resident, James Stone, identified himself as the executive director of Walk San Diego, an organization that promotes walkable cities, and said, in offering his volunteer services to the Environmental or Community Service board, that he had moved to La Mesa because he loves its walkable streets. He also volunteered that he recently walked from his home in La Mesa to his office -- 11 miles west of La Mesa.

"It took about three hours,'' he said. Now that's a commute.

The Council will announce appointments to the open commission and board seats in July.

And then the council turned its attention to the bad.

City staff gave an overview of the two-year budget projections which put some numbers to the on-going impact The Great Recession is having on local municipal budgets across California. Hampered by reductions in state aid and saddled with increased assumption of state mandates, while suffering property tax and sales tax reductions, the city is facing a fiscal malaise if not crisis.

At current projections, the next two years will have the city spending reserve funds to cover projected general fund revenue deficits of just over $400,000 each year. That, in fact, is down from an even higher deficit projected just four months ago but improved revenue projections have narrowed the gap.

City Manager Dave Witt said his staff is holding the line on personnel and other expenses, but acknowledged that the city has only stayed afloat because of the sale of several properties and the $7-million being generated each year by the Prop L sales tax voters approved some years back.

Long term financial health for the city will require the state mend its fiscal problems and La Mesa manage to grow its property tax base and promote business development to help maintain sales tax revenues.

With the big fiscal issues placed squarely on the table, the council turned its attention to small ball, the ugly part of the meeting.

Having spent more than an hour discussing a $38.4 million budget and significant financial challenges, Ewin then directed the staff to bring back recommendations on about $35,000 worth of spending, all of which might be described as discretionary money near and dear to the mayor's heart. Ewin asked for cuts in council travel and organization memberships, asking that the participation in government groups be limited to California organizations only and joined Councilwoman Kristine Alessio in proposing to eliminate the car funds paid to council members in lieu of mileage.

Madrid has long served with national mayor groups and attends numerous conferences each year around the U.S. where his longevity has often earned him prominent roles in the organizations. Madrid says such travel keeps La Mesa in good position to win grants and keep up with the latest trends. Madrid made a number of comments about narrow-minded, short-sighted critics in the community and leaders who pander to critics "who just say no to everything.'' It wasn't hard to decipher the targets intended as Madrid and Ewin throughout exchanged direct stares. But for anyone not familiar with the personal animus and subtext of meaning these otherwise subtle issues bring up, these big fights over small dollar issues can seem more academic and arcane than substantive.

After the meeting, Madrid exited quickly as Ewin and Alessio lingered outside the chambers with members of the La Mesa Citizens Oversight Group, a self-appointed watchdog group that also is quite critical of Madrid, as they rehashed the events of the night. It had the look, perhaps, of a political action committee taking shape a year ahead of Madrid's next run for re-election.

But no one was announcing a candidacy -- yet.







Views: 382

Tags: Art Madrid, Ernie Ewin, Government, Kristine Alessio, La Mesa Today, La Mesa newspaper


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Comment by Scott H. Kidwell on June 28, 2013 at 4:20pm

His Honor had an opportunity to present a cogent argument to support his spending and travel request. Instead we get political cliche's, unspecific claims of benefit, and child-like whining about any who dare demand transparency and accountability in the spending of taxpayer money.

Comment by Chandra George on June 27, 2013 at 9:58am

Why can't the Mayor/Council Members take advantage of the mileage reimbursement deduction on their federal income tax returns?  They would have the choice of 56.5 cents per mile or the actual cost of using their personal vehicles for city business.  

Comment by DEXTER LEVY on June 26, 2013 at 5:05pm

Politics Aside!

One thing that was also clear at last-nights meeting, Council members Alessio & Ewin did not want the travel costs based on Mileage/Per-diem eliminated, only the monthly Car allowance for Council Members be eliminated and Travel Expenses that the Council established for the current Budget be cut in half.  City Manager Witt reminded them that staff needed some time to propose a workable Mileage/Per-diem due to the changing rules & State & Fed. laws,

A question for the Council? When the Finance Dept. proposes the new, soon to be approved Bi-Annual Budget what $ amount should the Finance Dept. use! At least the existing Budget has an amount! Without an established amount, it could amount to a Blank Check, without amounts established for these two categories.

The Finance Dept. (at the direction of the Council) used the $ that were directed for use in the Budgeting process----The most important thing! Take a look at what is the current $ spent this year! Then establish the realistic $ for the upcoming Budget, doing this without using this info. is unrealistic and irresponsible.

Trust the Council will relay this information to the Public and use it as part of the info. in the Process!

Comment by David Smyle on June 26, 2013 at 3:46pm

Yes, many of us citizens are very highly qualified and educated and have good ideas to offer.  I hate to say I told you so but several months back, I suggested at a Council meeting the City change it laddering of treasuries from 3 and 5 yr terms to very short term since the rates were likely to rise.  Well, here we are with rates up about .75% from that time and the City is missing out on taking advantage of those rate since they locked into lower rate for longer terms.  I keep hearing about how our Treasurer is doing such a wonderful job.  Maybe a citizens committee of people in the financial business could help provide advice on these matters.  Good talent wasting away on the sidelines because the "City" knows best.

Comment by Kevin G George on June 26, 2013 at 3:21pm

Thanks for that Chris.

That's the "La Mesa Citizens Oversight Group". Please visit our website.

Thanks for the ink.

Comment by La Mesa Today on June 26, 2013 at 3:06pm

Corrected Group Kevin. I admit to the occasional blemish. But just ocassional. Thanks,


Comment by Chandra George on June 26, 2013 at 11:58am

Some really snarky and twisted stuff here.  As a citizen that attended part of the meeting and watched the rest on Channel 24,  I don't think I can address all of it.

 First, this article seems to have been compiled (emphasis on -"pile"-) solely from the perspective of who's running against the Name-Calling Mayor.  I guess the writer is so cyncial, he doesn't believe that ANY elected official would take a position contrary to the mayor (and therefore on behalf of the citizens they represent) unless they have political aspirations.  Otherwise, the writer strongly suggests all members of the City Council should sit tight-lipped and rubber stamp everything the mayor proposes. 

Next, let's take "The Good" section.  Yes, there was an abundance of highly qualified La Mesans applying for positions on various commissions.  I was impressed.  Therefore, my take-away from those presentations is that there is a strong likelihood that they represent a tiny fraction of La Mesa citizens with impressive backgrounds & experiences.  It's rather odd that the writer seems to support the Mayor's contention that he has to travel around the country on the backs of the tax-payers in order to seek out good ideas in order to make La Mesa a good city.    Not to mention the fact that technology has made instant information & idea sharing something every Mayor can do from his or her desk or phone.  But Mayors and most other elected officials don't get into the "government business" for their stated reasons, but to take advantage of the perquisites which include "free" travel, transportation, meals, events where they can glad-hand and trade horses.  With the Council's desire to participate in cutting their own budget (I consider the proposed $35K cut part of "The Good" ), time will tell whether our mayor will continue to find job satisfaction and an urge to serve sans the special perks.  As for the mayor's contention that his travel, etc. has brought home the pork-flavored grants...let's make it's not "free money" to La Mesa.  It's part of an "Ugly" scheme foisted upon us by elected officials at all levels designed to get themselves reelected.  La Mesans that pay federal and state taxes have prepaid for any of these grants we get.  We also pay for hosts of other "projects" around the country.  I pay for a statue of some local yay-hoo to be placed outside the library in Ames, Iowa.  Some tax-paying sucker in Selma, Alabama pays for La Mesa street-calming projects.  What's too bad is that, in reality, it probably takes $20 in taxes extracted from a La Mesa citizen to be washed through the federal system to achieve $1 in benefits back to La Mesa.  Just imagine if I and my fellow citizens could each send our "dollar bill" to City Hall and get calmed streets; and each have $19 extra to spend at local businesses.   That, too, would be "Good".  I, for one, am unimpressed with the corrupt, patronizing "Bad" "grant scheme" constantly touted by the mayor.  

Back to the writer's contention that, in the face of a multi-million dollar budget that it's "petty" and "ugly" for the Council to address a mere $35K of their own discretionary expenses.  Really?  City Manager Witt spoke at length about how city staff was holding the line on its expenses, not creating new positions, combining duties, flogging another year or two out of equipment, etc.  Does the writer think the "line-holding" (which I applaud) amounted to far more than $7,000 per employee?  Does the writer think Mr. Witt is as "petty" and "ugly" as he characterized Councilman Ewin?  If not, why not?  

Finally, the writer carries the mayor's water by agreeing that there are narrow-minded, say "no" to everything citizens.  (Damn that democracy!)  Remember your "Bad" section, Mr. Writer?  Yes, the jig is up.  La Mesa (like all those other cities around the nation with traveling mayors sharing their poisonous ideas) is in a financial crisis.  Our mayor can hardly claim that he hasn't has enough time in office to stem the financial decline.  What have these mayors been doing at these junkets?  Ah, yes, using peer pressure and the aforementioned horse-trading to advance their progressive warming, gun control, international fair trade.  Easy stuff because there's really no accountability.  Who is not against "illegal" guns?  So what's the point?  Meanwhile, back at "home", the red ink's a'flowin'.  Hmmm.  I guess I'd want to be out-of-town as often as possible, too.  There are actually difficult issues there.  Hard work is required.

The truly "Ugly" part of this is that the meeting begins with the "Pledge of Allegiance" with the words "to the republic for which it stands".  The "Good":  Councilpersons Ewin, Alessio & Sterling who properly demonstrated  that their job is to represent the free citizens of La Mesa, and not bankrupt us.  Meanwhile, the "Ugly" is a mayor who proclaims that his job is to use his position to attempt to stomp out those who disagree with him with insults, name-calling and threats AND the closed-minded, "journalist" who seemingly can't wait to assist him in any way he can.  

Comment by Marie McLaughlin on June 26, 2013 at 9:40am

Quoting from this very informative summation:

"Long term financial health for the city will require the state mend its fiscal problems and La Mesa manage to grow its property tax base and promote business development to help maintain sales tax revenues."  
So far the only legacy the PBID effort has had on our city is to divide businesses and residents alike.  We are concerned that the PBID effort is in fact an intention to bring in more revenue for city coffers rather than to benefit business.  As I have been espousing for months, PBID would be counterproductive to many businesses that bring in tax revenue to the city.  Restaurants and retailers who oppose PBID are bringing in sales tax revenue, while some service oriented businesses who are pro PBID do not collect sales tax.  The weak economy has made it difficult for many businesses to survive, and some are delinquent in property tax payments.  Any business not paying property taxes should recuse themselves from having a voice in determining what assessments the rest of us should pay should PBID efforts continue!
Comment by Kevin G George on June 26, 2013 at 9:38am

Geez Chris, at least spell our name right.

It's the La Mesa Citizens Oversight GROUP.


 A committee would imply some sort of organization.

We are simply a " handful"( the Mayors words) of concerned Citizens voicing our opinions in a unified manner, and welcome any other like minded Citizens of La Mesa to join us and do the same.

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