With mayor gone, El Cajon planning for what’s next

By Karen Pearlman
EL CAJON — El Cajon City Manager Doug Williford and City Attorney Morgan Foley are laying out options for the City Council to decide how to fill the unexpired term of former Mayor Mark Lewis, who resigned Oct. 24 after 15 years in the position.

The council will discuss filling the post at its next meeting, set for 3 p.m. Nov. 12 in City Council chambers. The options include an appointment or a special election.

Lewis stepped down Oct. 24 after disparaging comments he made about a segment of the city’s Chaldean community surfaced in a magazine article and caused an uproar. Since then, City Councilman Bill Wells, the mayor pro tem, has assumed the duties of the mayor’s office.

Williford said the council must make a decision on the matter within 60 days.

Wells earlier had said he would be running for mayor in the regular election in November 2014. If Wells were to be appointed mayor, his council seat would have to be filled. Wells’ council term expires in 2016.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters estimates the cost of an election for a June 2014 ballot could run anywhere between $15,000 and $40,000. Factors including number of candidates, voting precincts, poll workers and polling places could increase the cost.

Michael Vu, the registrar of voters, said the city of Encinitas paid nearly $350,000 for a stand-alone special election for a proposition in the city last June.

An appointment would be less expensive, but that process has been an issue in the city. Hundreds of residents complained in 2012 about what they perceived as an unfair appointment process after Tony Ambrose was quickly chosen to fill a spot on the council vacated by Jillian Hanson-Cox.

Hanson-Cox resigned in early March 2012. She pleaded guilty to two felony charges related to embezzling $3.5 million from her employers. Ambrose, then on the Planning Commission, was appointed by a 4-0 council vote three weeks after Hanson-Cox’s resignation.

“If the council decides to do an appointment, I’m going to insist that we have applications,” said City Councilman Gary Kendrick, whose council term expires next year.

In 2002, the last time the city held a special election, Kendrick beat out 12 others to take Todd Keegan’s place. Keegan left abruptly in August 2001 with about 14 months left in his term.

Mayoral hopeful Todd Moore, who lost to Lewis in the 2010 election — Lewis had 8,206 votes to Moore’s 6,504 — said he is “definitely considering” running for mayor in 2014.

“I do not feel that an appointment is the right way, but I never have,” Moore said. “That being said, look at the cost for the city. Thousands of dollars. It may be the most reasonable path, at least for the time being.”

Other possible mayoral and/or City Council candidates include Ben Kalasho, who almost unseated longtime Councilman Bob McClellan last election, and Duane Swainston, who has run unsuccessfully run for a City Council seat two times.

“The next month should get interesting for El Cajon politics,” Swainston said.

Bob Clark, a 19-year resident of El Cajon who regularly attends City Council meetings, believes the city should hold “an emergency council meeting, town hall meeting or workshop before the Nov. 12 meeting to get (community) input about the process for selecting a new mayor.”