By Miriam Raftery
October 13, 2016 (La Mesa) – By a 3-1 vote, with Councilwoman Ruth Sterling opposed and Councilman Guy McWhirter absent, La Mesa’s City Council on Tuesday voted to approve a measure that requires signatures of two council members to place any measure on the ballot.
Councilmember Ruth Sterling blasted the action in an e-mail to ECM. “They diminished the people’s right to know, the government’s transparency, “ she said of the Council majority.”This is the people’s government. That fact was ignored.”
Sterling said City Attorney Glenn Sabine indicated there are conflicting writings on whether such action might violate the Brown Act, making it a “gray area.”
Calaware General Counsel Terry Francke has said requiring two signatures for agenda items is legal, but Sterling contends his opinion omits a conflicting view cited by Sabine.
Sterling adds, “Never should the public’s input be diminished and when there are gray areas, one should always avoid in the event of a challenge,” noting that defending against lawsuits uses the people’s money. “So caution is tossed to the wind just as it was with the LMMVA (La Mesa Village MerchantsAssociation) Oktoberfest loss of the taxpayer money.”
Sterling specifically faulted fellow Council members Bill Baber and Kristine Alessio, who proposed the measure that also requires notice in writing a week prior to the next Council hearing, as well as two signatures.
“It was mouth dropping to see those two banter back and forth on how they were going to get their item passed and dodge the gray area of the item from the Brown Act…It appears they are trying to limit somebody’s input.”
That “somebody” could beSterling, who has previously added Council items to the agenda on her own for discussion at the request of constituents. Or, several readers have suggested, it could be an effort to limit the ability of Colin Parent, a well-financed Democrat running for Council, to agendize items if he is elected.
Parent has told ECM,"My campaign has been very focused on addressing the rising crime rates in La Mesa. If La Mesa voters elect me to the Council, I am confident I can persuade my colleagues to provide more support for our public safety personnel."
Councilman Baber told ECM before the vote that he reason for introducing the measure was to “standardize how things get on the docket” and assure reasonable timeliness.
Asked why he was pushing to require two signatures to get an item on the agenda, he noted that it already takes a a second for discussion of an agenda item to take place, though before this measure any member could agendize an item and speak on it when introducing it.
Baber claimed, “Politicians like to grandstand, and this limits grandstanding.”
But Gene Carpenter with La Mesa Conversations, a community discussion group on La Mesa issues, told ECM, “I can only recount one example that may have been considered grandstanding and it involved tobacco,” an apparent reference to Councilmember Alessio lighting up a cigarette during a Council meeting to protest a measure to limit smoking.