City Council appoints Acting Mayor Bill Wells as mayor of El Cajon

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Acting mayor Bill Wells was sworn in as mayor of El Cajon on Tuesday, Nov. 12, after a 3-0 city council vote to immediately appoint him for the duration of former mayor Mark Lewis’ term, which ends in 2014. After council consideration, it decided that a special election for the office would be too costly and ineffective with the short term until the next election.

Acting mayor Bill Wells was sworn in as mayor of El Cajon on Tuesday, Nov. 12, after a 3-0 city council vote to immediately appoint him for the duration of former mayor Mark Lewis’ term, which ends in 2014. After council consideration, it decided that a special election for the office would be too costly and ineffective with the short term until the next election.

Lewis’ immediate resignation came on Oct. 24, shortly after derogatory comments about the Chaldean, Hispanic and African-American community were pointed out in a May interview with The Progressive. In tandem, facing health issues, his resignation stated that he made the decision to avoid further concerns by citizens and to allow the city to continue to move forward.

With the mayor position filled, council decided it wanted to avoid a special election for Wells’ seat, whose term ends in 2016 by appointment. Council has 60 days (Jan. 12) to appoint a member to the vacant seat or it will be forced into a special election.

Council directed the city manager, along with help of Councilmember Tony Ambrose to arrange the application process  and the councilmembers will decide from a pool of qualified applicants who meet pre-requisites at the next council meeting on Dec. 10. The online application will be on the city’s website by Monday, Nov. 18th by 5:30 p.m. and hard copies available in the City Clerk’s Office. The deadline to apply for the councilmember seat is Dec. 4 at close of business at 5:30 p.m.

Councilmember Bob McClellan said a special election would cost the city too much money and that money should be reserved for public services.

“That would be taking money away from the possible appointment of needed police officers, which we need out in the streets,” he said.

Several people spoke in open session requesting special elections, and others desired appointment. Ben Kalasho, who lost to McClellan in 2012 by less than one percent, had the support of many people who addressed the council.

Fotis Tsimboukakis, President of the El Cajon Democratic Club, said, “Appoint the next runner up, it is only fair that he (Kalasho) be first person considered.”

Kalasho, a business owner said he would vie for the seat and was thankful for the support he received in public endorsement from citizens of El Cajon.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “ECPAC (East County Performing Arts Center) is still closed, we are still a poor city. The city needs healing,” he said. “I am Chaldean and have a strong business background. I would be a liaison between communities, and bridge gaps with things like education, public safety and getting control over the crime rate.”

Vicky Butcher, who served three terms on the city’s Planning Commission and long-term El Cajon resident, said she agreed with concept of using electoral process to level the playing field.

“What we would like to propose is that there be diversity,” she said. “I do support district wide elections. If the appointment process (for mayor) is the process by which you choose, then let there be equal dignity.” 

Butcher said she intended and desired to be considered for the vacant seat.

“I would bring diversity to the city council both as a woman and an African-American,” she said.

Accused of violating The Brown Act, Wells said his interest in becoming mayor was never a secret.

“I was already running and raising money to run for the next election because Mark Lewis had already said he wasn’t going to run again,” he said.

Wells dismissed himself from the vote due to conflict of interest, with a motion to select Wells made by McClellan, second by Ambrose and unanimously approved.

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