The June 8 "Community Dialogue on La Mesa's Fiscal Future,” hosted by La Mesa City Council members Ernest Ewin and Kristine Alessio, attracted eight people and consisted of conversation that extended 30 minutes beyond the two hours that the hosts allocated for what they called "community outreach."
The proposed forum was discussed at the May 14 council meeting, where two of the other three councilmembers questioned the need for what Alessio and Ewin described in their agenda item as "an informal public discussion of general budgetary issues and strategic aspects of future budgets that citizens feel are of importance."
At that meeting, Ewin talked about use of a public facility for the Saturday-afternoon event. Mayor Art Madrid said, "We have budget hearings." Ewin responded, "There are a lot of people" who can't come to evening meetings.
Alessio, who was elected in November, said constituents asked about the budget when she's out in public. Rather than invite a few people to her home, she and Ewin scheduled an event open to the public. Councilwoman Ruth Sterling questioned whether the newest councilmember should discuss the budget that the council votes on in July.
The mayor pointed out that the city held workshops. "I don't want information unfiltered," said Madrid. He and Sterling voted 2-3 against the forum allowed under the Brown Act, which covers public access to government meetings. While a third councilmember could attend, city manager David Witt said that person couldn't comment.
Before voting, Madrid said, "We did away with standing committees; now we have an ad hoc committee."
Madrid was elected to the council in 1981 and served until 1990, when voters elected him mayor. After the 2010 election, Madrid said in an April 27, 2012, La Mesa Patch interview that he planned to run for a seventh term in 2014. The piece cited a La Mesa Today article where Madrid acknowledged Ewin's plan to challenge him. Ewin is also up for reelection next year. His 2010 council victory was a return to the office that he held from 1985–1990.
Both Ewin and Madrid endorsed Alessio last year. Other 2012 candidates included Sterling, who was elected in 1992 and is serving her sixth term.
Alessio and Ewin were the only councilmembers at the event held in the La Mesa Police Department community room. Residents including Dave Smyle discussed budget issues such as city pensions; other people suggested cost-cutting measures.
Bill Jaynes questioned the need for a new city hall, and Chandra George recommended formation of a volunteer civic-improvement program. Joe Glidden praised the public works department's rapid response. "Usually if I'm thinking about it, it's fixed the next day," he said.
Alessio said she enjoyed "brainstorming" and that upcoming sessions could involve other pairs of councilmembers. Ewin said he hoped more people would attend future meetings.