In October 2011, the La Mesa City Council voted 3-2 against a resolution to make La Mesa the first "Fair Trade Town," in Southern California. One of its two proponents was Mayor Art Madrid.
Now, almost a year to the day, it looks as though the city is on its way to getting that distinction, with Madrid spearheading the effort, seemingly on his own.
On Oct. 12, the mayor signed letter of commendation (see attached PDF) urging the national Fair Trade Towns USA organization to grant La Mesa that status. It was a move that, according to Madrid, he had full "authority," to do, despite the fact that the city council was never consulted or voted on a resolution.
In an interview with East County Magazine (ECM), Madrid said: “Yes, I issued the commendation because it was warranted and I, as Mayor, had the authority to do so. As the Mayor, and after consulting with the City Attorney, it is within my authority to issue such a commendation, and I did.”
The letter was taken by the La Mesa Fair Trade Committee to a national conference in Chicago last weekend, where, according to the group's website, the city was "given the long awaited certificate declaring La Mesa a Fair Trade Town. Plans are in process for a formal presentation and celebration involving La Mesa residents and city officials," the website stated.
Fair trade is used to describe a system of exchange that promotes social justice, environmental sustainability, and paying farm workers a reasonable and fair wage for their services.
Some have questioned the validity of Madrid's play.
Scott Kidwell, one of the members of the La Mesa Citizens Oversight Group, sent an e-mail to the City Clerk, the City Attorney, and councilmembers Mark Arapostathis, Ernie Ewin and Ruth Sterling. The letter asked many questions about how the commendation was prepared, approved, and provided to the La Mesa Fair Trade steering committee.
"Since only the Mayor signed the document, it is not on city letterhead, it was not presented at a properly noticed public meeting, it was not voted on and approved by the city council and it was not offered to all other council members for signature, am I correct in stating that this commendation represents only the individual and personal opinion of the Mayor and was not/is not an official action or position of the City of La Mesa?," Kidwell wrote.
See also: Shopping guide for stores that carry Fair Trade products
Madrid justified his actions, telling ECM, "like climate change, several of the councilmembers never consider the long term impact these issues will have on our community or society in general.”
He also shot back at Kidwell's claims.
"The laws of California allow the Mayor specific authorities and all the sections of our codes cited in Kidwell’s email confirm that authority," Madrid said. "They know squat about democracy."
Nancy Ryan, one of the co-chairs of the steering committee, told ECM that she is happy the city finally has fair trade designation.
"With [designation] comes recognition for our city, both locally and across the U.S.," Ryan said. "It will also be a boost to our local merchants. Most importantly, it signifies that consumers are aware of Fair Trade and have the opportunity to purchase products that will result in fostering social, economic and environmental justice in our world."