A Time Of Change In La Mesa

First of five articles.

LA MESA -- La Mesa's city leadership has been a picture of stability.

A mayor who has served, in varying roles, for more than three decades. One council member with more than 20 years in place and the remaining members who are such fixtures in town, it can seem, at times, like a monolithic dynasty.

One of the candidates seeking a seat in next month's election refers to the panel as "La Mesa's Mt. Rushmore.''

But for the first time in years, this election will bring new life and, perhaps, significant new life to La Mesa's City Council. Incumbent Dave Allan is not seeking re-election, leaving one seat open, and the other seat is considered by some to be ripe for new blood because its incumbent, Ruth Sterling, has been showing signs of decline in her long service with the city.

Sterling, who is approaching her 80th birthday, is seeking re-election. Her signs can be seen throughout town, but she is not making herself available for the interviews her opponents agreed to do with LaMesaToday.com. She has appeared at candidate forums where she lists nearly perfect attendance at City Council meetings and the founding of the Flag Day parade as bragging points. Observers of the council in recent years have seen Sterling struggle to follow debates and discussions and her votes have swung quickly from one side to the other on key issues facing the city.

City staffers say that when Sterling represents the city at intergovernmental boards and committees, she is frequently given special tutoring sessions to help her follow the issues she is likely to face.

Said one of her City Council colleagues: "The sad truth is that it has been that way for years with Ruth.''

Sterling would not agree to be interviewed for this story. Despite two e-mail requests and a direct request during a City Council meeting, she would not agree to participate. Sterling told LaMesaToday.com she was busy but would answer, via e-mail, questions submitted in writing. 

However, this series was produced based on live, spontaneous interviews with candidates, in part, to judge their ability to respond to issues in an unscripted exchange.

At City Council meetings Sterling often reads prepared statements and her fellow council members say they believe Sterling gets assistance preparing her remarks.

Mayor Art Madrid has said publicly he regularly wrote statements for Sterling in the past.

LaMesaToday.com editors would not agree to prior, written questions for only one of the five candidates.

Sterling's opponents have not been publicly challenging her continued candidacy. As a long, public servant they respect her years of effort and, instead, focus on their own strengths. One challenger, Laura Lothian, has made an issue of Sterling's service, but its length, not the substance of her performance or her age.

"I'm a big fan of term limits,'' Lothian says simply.

With a long history in La Mesa, Sterling clearly has many friends and she's been re-elected, like most La Mesa incumbents, election after election.

Yet, Allan's open seat has brought forth perhaps the strongest field of candidates in recent La Mesa history. The field includes candidates not only with long La Mesa roots, but with years of volunteer experience in the city and a number are highly educated and accomplished in their own fields.

There is a geologist and a lawyer. A trained chef and a realtor whose work in La Mesa's housing stock has allowed her to use that perch to challenge the city's code enforcement policies.

Meeting and talking with Sterling's challengers reveals some consistency among them all. All have a deep understanding of the local community. All have demonstrated in varying ways a commitment to public service. And all four are independent-thinking people who are clearly going to change the dynamic on the council, regardless of whether one or two of them win this year.

Over the next four days, LaMesaToday.com, will publish dossiers on each of the candidates. The stories -- labeled "The Race For La Mesa" -- will be published in the order the candidates will appear on the November ballot. Each story will include links to the candidates own websites and will include the official statements each penned for this year's ballot.

We encourage you to read the stories, examine their materials and share them with friends and neighbors. There was a one theme that appears in all four of the challengers' discussions of this election race. La Mesa, they all agreed, is a small city surrounded by larger neighbors in a region that continues to experience significant development pressures. Having a strong City Council with the talent to pursue the right policies will be key to maintaining what virtually all agree is a unique, small-town quality of life amid an increasingly urban landscape.

The series to come:

TUESDAY: Kristine Alessio

WEDNESDAY: Shannon O'Dunn

THURSDAY: Patrick Dean

FRIDAY: Laura Lothian

Incumbent Ruth Sterling has declined to be interviewed for this series. Below is her official ballot statement:

You can CLICK HERE to see Ruth Sterling's official website.

Views: 888

Tags: Art Madrid, Government, Kristine Alessio, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, La Mesa politics, Laura Lothian, Patrick Dean, Ruth Sterling, Shannon O'Dunn, More…The Race for La Mesa


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Comment by Deena on October 17, 2012 at 6:12am

Ruth Sterling is wise not to do an interview with this one-sided, poor excuse of a news site. 

Comment by David Smyle on October 16, 2012 at 4:47pm

And out from under a rock comes JW.  Wasn't it you Jim who 1 year ago announced to the world with the City Council beside you your candidacy?  Oops, too many skeletons in the closet I guess.  Thank God for the Maxwells', Kidwells', Jaynes', Buckleys' and Georges' to keep the City in check and watch out for the tax and rate payer.    At least when we run our mouth, the truth comes out.  You should try that Jim.  It can be invigorating!

Comment by Kevin G George on October 16, 2012 at 4:01pm

Well Jim let me add my kit in order to make this a complete Kaboodle, I hate to be left out.

The purpose of Arts piec.......oh I mean Chis' piece is obvious.

Ruth Sterling has been used to the fullest advantage and now she will be disposed of, thrown on to the heap of souls used by the Mayor on his way to ......well two more years of, and I use the term LOOSELY, leadership.

And please get off the " If you're not running STFU" routine, it's old and tired.

We can't all be trustfunders with time on our hands.

Comment by David Smyle on October 16, 2012 at 3:14pm

Once again, the Mayor sends out his henchman to back his play.  Let's see.  All the people you named Jim are the watchdogs for La Mesa making sure you and Art don't try to take down another organization or pass an unnecessary ordinance.   We will serve in good time.  In the meantime, we are making sure you and your cronies don't get La Mesa into any more hot water than we are already in financially.  By the way, didn't you announce your candidacy in front of the world last year with nearly the whole City Council at your side endorsing you?  Oh those skeletons!

Comment by Jimmy Sanders on October 16, 2012 at 2:43pm

Seems I recall that Mr. Wieboldt was once a committed candidate to get rid of Ruth Sterling under orders from the Mayor-and then quit! His membership in the big talk club remains intact!



Comment by Bill Jaynes on October 16, 2012 at 2:35pm

Unbelievable. Ask a simple question, cui bono, and out trots the Mayor's recently reappointed Parking Commissioner with pocketsful of of those rotting fish heads for anyone who dares speak out in favor of civility, substance, and simple human decency in the conduct of our politics (and a few extras aimed at people who haven't even commented on this article!).

At some point we'll have to put yesterday's fight over the defunct PBID behind us, Jim. Wouldn't you agree it's time to move forward seeking real solutions to real problems? Or do you want this one-sided feud to suck all the oxygen out of City politics all through next campaign season?

Bill Jaynes


619 464 2298

Comment by Jim Wieboldt on October 16, 2012 at 1:15pm


Chris must have hit a major nerve!

Kidwell, Smyle, Jaynes and Buckley all protesting. Now all we need is While, George and Maxwell and we'd have the whole 'kitten kaboodle'!

Of course, none of the above are running to serve, just running their mouths! So what's new?

I love elections!

Comment by Janet Mercer-Grey on October 16, 2012 at 1:03pm

Election cycle after election cycle the Mayor is putting up or endorsing or funding candidates to oust Ruth Sterling. This time he has endorsed or funded at least three others. Why is Art Madrid so afraid of Ruth Sterling? It looks to me like women who have a track record of thinking for themselves and not being beguiled by his charms are a threat. I say re-elect Ruth and elect Laura to keep this bully under control for the next two years when it's time for a new Mayor!

Comment by Scott H. Kidwell on October 16, 2012 at 8:05am

In light of today's puff piece on another canidate this is a disappointing and truely sad display of  journalism.

Comment by David Smyle on October 16, 2012 at 12:47am

Nice hit piece Chris.   So Ruth wouldn't agree to be interviewed.  Boo hoo.  So rather than just say that and give information already out there in the public domain, you decide to do an investigative piece?  What was your purpose in telling us about Ruth getting tutored and have written statements prepared?  I for one am glad she is not afraid to change her vote after listening to her constituents and hearing a different opinion than the one Art is trying to stuff down everyone's throat.    Getting tutored on issues is a smart thing if you are not fully up to speed on an issue.  Can't imagine all the Council know everything on every issue on outside meetings they attend. 

Your interviews will not likely have any more information than we have already seen from a couple of forums unless you are choosing to ask the tough questions of everybody and of course, those will be your questions versus questions we the public want to know more about.  Maybe you will find out some new info or positions of the candidates we haven't heard.  I hope you dig hard like you did on Ruth.  Are you going to ask the candidates friends and neighbors and opponents about the candidate so we can get an outside view like the staffers did on Ruth?  We will see.

So they all have a deep understanding of the community?  Really?  I think not.  Dean has only been here for four years and doesn't even understand the village or knows what benefits the City Council gets.   They all have their own pet projects.  Lothian's beautification, O'Dunns upscaling of the Village, Alessio's transparency in government and Patrick Dean wants to have everyone ride bikes to work singing Kum Ba Ya and all living downtown along the trolley line so no one has to drive a car anymore.  Everything seems to be about downtown but there are many more areas of La Mesa that deserve attention.

The question is if anyone can ask the tough questions in a council seat and suggest changes to the way business is done at City Hall like hiring a third party negotiator for employee MOUs, increasing employees share of medical premiums from 5% to something more reasonable and tackling the pension deficit with a reasonable retirement plan than the one the currently gives employees both social security and a defined benefit pension at 55 (must be nice to retire at 55).

La Mesa Today has a reputation of being the Mayor's mouthpiece and after reading the above story, why would we think otherwise.  Can we really trust the reporting on these candidates to be fair and unbiased?  We shall see.

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