Madrid, Ewin Face Off In Public Spat

LA MESA -- A subtle, simmering feud between La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid and City Councilman Ernie Ewin became very public -- and a little bit ugly -- Tuesday.
In a prepared presentation at the start of a regular council meeting, Ewin revealed that Madrid had been filing Freedom of Information requests, collecting information about payments Ewin receives for attending meetings of intergovernmental groups for which Ewin is La Mesa's representative.
Ewin released the documents Madrid had sought in official requests to the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Joint Powers Authority, which operates regional sewer treatment operations. The documents chronicle more than $40,000 in per diem payments Ewin received over the last decade, usually about $150 per meeting.
Ewin has represented La Mesa on the MTS board and with the JPA, including a number of subcommittees which also make per diem payments for each meeting attended. Ewin described Madrid's FOI requests as "veiled threats and bullying'' by the mayor.

The per diem payments are legal and routinely made to public officials serving on these intergovernmental boards and committees. Madrid also receives such payments for his work with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and now the JPA.

But Madrid said he was gathering the information to make a point about Ewin, who he accused of leading a cabal of local residents and council members who were trying to stymie the mayor's initiatives for personal political reasons. He pointed to what he said were recent collaborations between Ewin, City Councilwoman Kristine Alessio and members of the La Mesa Citizens Oversight Group, a self-appointed watchdog group, to criticize the mayor's travels and participation in intergovernmental groups.

Madrid said Ewin has been religiously taking per diem payments but, in his view, has not been representing the city well, particularly on the Joint Powers Authority, which operates the sewage treatment facilities that handle La Mesa's effluent at the Point Loma treatment center.

Madrid said he took Ewin's place on the JPA board in January and quickly found out that major problems had been brewing for some time. In his view, Ewin should have been reporting back to the council that residents should be preparing for potentially enormous sewer bill increases in the coming years as the JPA is forced to spend millions to meet federal water treatment requirements.

"This council never heard word one about the problems,'' Madrid said. "He criticizes me for working with national groups that reimburse the city for my efforts while he takes the per diem and doesn't deliver.''

Ewin said his work with MTS, where he helped found an audit committee as the MTS grew, and the JPA has been routinely lauded by those organizations. He said he didn't raise alarms about the JPA challenges because neither the timing nor the scope of any increases that will come La Mesa's way could be determined.

Ewin said he chalks up Madrid's records requests to political and style differences. "I'm not someone who will back down and get in line with the mayor,'' Ewin said. Ewin said Madrid has previously attempted to have him removed from the MTS assignment in retaliation for other political differences.

This public fight is the latest in what has been a series of contretemps between Madrid and Ewin, with other council members playing occasional cameo roles in the drama. Ewin recently engineered tighter adherence to city travel procedures which resulted in the council denying Madrid's request for attending a national organization meeting in La Vegas, saying the benefit to the city was not clear enough.

Ewin has also been critical of the mayor's efforts on behalf of the Property Based Improvement District steering committee and has joined together with varying other council members to shoot down other recent  Madrid initiatives.

At the heart of the matter, Ewin says, is a different approach to government. Ewin pointed out that Madrid hasn't attended a La Mesa Chamber of Commerce event in years because he is feuding with the chamber's executive director. Madrid, he said, has also been feuding with the Village Merchant's Association for years now.

"He believes he has to shake things up to get things done,'' Ewin said of Madrid. "I take a different approach. I talk to everyone.''

To underscore that point, during the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, local book seller Craig Maxwell, a legendary Madrid opponent, quickly stood to defend Ewin, though Maxwell and Ewin had been close to blows themselves not long ago over Village issues.

Madrid sees Maxwell's support of Ewin as evidence of their shared goal of discrediting the mayor. Maxwell failed in an earlier race against the mayor and used Tuesday night's Madrid/Ewin jousting to revive his campaign call for term limits. "Politicians dig in -- like tics,'' Maxwell said.

"They're using each other,'' Madrid said. "Craig is using Ernie to needle me.''

Is this all a prologue to a Ewin-Madrid mayoral contest in 2014?

"He won't run,'' Madrid says of Ewin. "He doesn't have the (nerve). He would lose.''

When asked if he is contemplating a more formal contest with Madrid, Ewin smiles.

"We'll see,'' he said.





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


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Comment by Marie McLaughlin on July 12, 2013 at 7:41am

The description of self-appointed watchdog group is about as accurate as a self-assessed tax district plan!  (Actually self-appointed tax district plan might be a more appropriate definition for La Mesa's proposed PBID considering it's original political source.)

Comment by David Smyle on July 11, 2013 at 2:02pm

Correction to everyone.  We are all "Madrid anointed Neanderthals" hence the identifying photos.  The best part is we are at least one evolutionary cycle ahead of the Mayor.

Comment by La Mesa Today on July 11, 2013 at 10:39am


No offense intended with the "self-appointed" designation. On a night when the council was making appointments to a wide range of boards and associations, I think it is clarifying to delineate group  origins and guiding organizations. I proudly own up to being a self-appointed journalist and have been one for more than 30 years now. The proof of value in all public efforts is in the pudding. I appreciate your civil engagement in

Chris Lavin, Editor

Comment by Mark Cavanaugh on July 10, 2013 at 9:58pm

Hey Art,

Feel free to update your photo on the City website.  You are not 50 any more.  Show the angry and grumpy old man we have come to know and dislike.

Comment by Scott H. Kidwell on July 10, 2013 at 1:26pm

I am proud to be part of the La Mesa Citizen Oversight Group (LMCOG). We expect to continue promoting open, accountable, cost-effective, and efficient local government.  We have no sympathy for politicians who object, or are unable, to publicly explain their spending of the peoples money. Nifty slogans and cute witticisms are great for campaigns and political wrangling, but no longer have a place in the actual accounting of precious and limited taxpayer dollars. We will continue to demand substantive and traceable proof of benefit to the operation of the city for all expenses.

The good thing is this latest exchange has highlighted other places for the LMCOG to check. Thanks Mr. Mayor!

Comment by Jimmy Sanders on July 10, 2013 at 11:59am

What word that the mayor used was so unprintable it had to be replaced with (nerve)? Is dear leader becoming so unhinged by having to be accountable and explain himself he is now a potty mouth?

Comment by Linda Van Wickel on July 10, 2013 at 8:41am

So, Art Madrid is the Bob Filner of La Mesa.  Great.

Comment by David Smyle on July 10, 2013 at 7:15am

Wow, Isn't this article ripe for the picking!  Let's get a few things straight.  Madrid's personal Kingdom is crumbling and he can only blame himself for bad governance.  Art is now on a 4-1 vote against on most of his proposals that involve wasteful spending, bad ideas, and personal agenda items.  It is not Ernie against Art.  It is Art against everyone including the Citizens.  Art, you don't have to worry about beating Ernie in the next election.  You would lose to my dog if she entered the race.

The La Mesa Citizens Oversight Group is happy to bend the ear of any councilperson who will listen when we have what we believe are important issues (like term limits, pension reform, unnecessary travel, issues that are not germane to the City etc).  If some of that happens to result in some of your power getting taken away, good for the citizens of La Mesa.

Art is a petty and bitter old man who has lost all his power with the new council (no one is afraid of you anymore Art) and the stepping down of his travel buddy Dave Allan.  The Chamber CEO disagrees with your position on an agenda item and you state, "well I am not going to any more Chamber events anymore"!.  First of all, no one has missed you.  Secondly, you are not spiting the Chamber.  You are spiting the Citizens who for some unknown reason might want you there for their grand opening or ribbon cutting.  Glad you couldn't put your ego aside and be there for the Citizens.  Class act.  Of course, if it is corporate money involved you can twist an arm from like a Walmart for one of your pet projects, you manage to show up.

Hey Art, you are on Sandag.  How come you haven't informed anyone of the secret collecting of license plate info?  Wasn't that important info to share with the Council and citizens? Do we care about transportation issues on Balboa Ave? 

Shall we add up all the per diem you have collected over the years?  Let's start with your $2,000 a month Mayor salary for a part time Mayor and your excessive car allowance.   Given your performance since 1990 and that fact you have put us in a $34 million pension hole, you should give it all back.  Are you really traveling that much to warrant such a large auto allowance?  You are not supposed to get it for commuting back and forth to City Hall.

Not one has to discredit you Art.  You do a good job of doing that to yourself.

It is not Just Ernie who has a problem with the PBID.  Ask Ruth.  She has been pretty vocal.  Ask the property owners.  They didn't sign enough petitions to move this thing along all on its own.  Ask the business owners who believe it is the City's responsibility to maintain city streets.  The PBID was the Mayor's pet project shoved down our throats without any forethought or meaningful discussion.

Bottom line, Nov 2014 can't come soon enough. It will feel like the liberation of France all over again.

Comment by Ron Hynum on July 10, 2013 at 6:32am

REALLY??? Take the kindergarten school yard games somewhere else please! 

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