From East County Magazine / Oct. 31, 2012
Last year, La Mesa Council voted 3 to 2 against declaring La Mesa a “Fair Trade Town.” But on October 12, Mayor Art Madrid signed a commendation letter posted on the Fair Trade La Mesa website and urged the national Fair Trade Towns USA group to grant the designation to La Mesa.
At the Fair Trade Towns and Universities Conference in Chicago in late October, La Mesa Fair Trade steering committee co-chairs Nancy Ryan and Anne Pacheco “were given the long awaited certificate declaring La Mesa a Fair Trade town,” the national group’s website states, adding, “Plans are in process for a formal presentation and celebration involving La Mesa residents and city officials.”
But now some opponents of the Fair Trade Town designation are questioning the appropriateness of the Mayor’s actions—and whether the rules were followed, or broken.
“Yes, I issued the commendation because it was warranted and I, as Mayor, had the authority to do so,” Mayor Madrid told ECM in an e-mail response to our inquiry. He added that despite the 3-2 vote with Madrid and Councilman David Allan voting in support, “As the Mayor, and after consulting with the City Attorney, it is within my authority to issue such a commendation, and I did.” ECM has contacted the City Attorney’s office for verification but has not yet received a response.)
Fair trade items are certified to assure consumers that goods such as bananas, coffee or craft items are not produced using child labor or slavery, that farmers and producers of good are paid a living wage for their region, and that sustainable and environmentally safe farming practices are utilized.
Passage of a resolution by Council was one of five steps needed for La Mesa to join a growing list of fair trade cities nationwide. The resolution required no spending by the city but did ask council members to support the concept of informing consumers where free trade products are sold, and to serve fair trade products at its meetings. Locally, fair trade supporters have met the remaining requirements, including creating a shopping guide listing numerous local merchants offering at least some fair trade products.
Opponents have contended that the free market should determine what goods buy, that a fair trade movement may be counter to a buy-American movement, and that it would be unfair to promote some merchants’ products over others.
As justification for his unilateral action, Mayor Madrid said that “like climate change” and a host of other issues, “several of the Council members never consider the long term impact these issues will have on our community or society in general.” Noting that the fair trade members are “from a church group in La Mesa,” he added, “They deserved to be acknowledged for their hard work on behalf of others less fortunate than some of us.” He added that he would like to see fair trade products include not only items made in other countries, byt also crafts made by “artisans in the United States who live in less than desirable conditions.”
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