Arroyo Grande mayor’s threats stopped me from running

August 7, 2020

Caren Ray-Russom


I considered running for Mayor of Arroyo Grande because I disagree with the current administration on a number of issues. I don’t believe diverse viewpoints are welcome at the council and I don’t like the condescending and hypocritical attitudes people experience from the mayor when expressing them. Not coincidentally, staff morale is at a very low point and we’ve recently had resignations of many key employees including the city manager.

Change requires not only for three people to accept the challenge, which I am willing to do, but for the whole community to realize there’s a problem and understand that diverse viewpoints make the decision making process stronger. After obtaining the registration papers to run for mayor, I received an email from Caren Ray Russom, the current mayor and candidate for a second term.

She indicated that if I were to run, two things would happen. First, my kids and my husband would be put through “ugliness” that would “air out all your dirty laundry for everyone to see and attach to your business.”

Not my issues – my kids, my husband, and my business. “It will put you and your family out into the ugly world of politics, which I assure you is nasty beyond your wildest dreams.”

Since I would only be running against her, I have to take that as a direct threat regarding her own tactics, which I’ve seen in her previous campaigns. Instead of running on issues, my family and business would be maliciously attacked.

Second, Ms. Ray Russom stated that if I didn’t run, taxpayers would be saved the $28,000 cost of holding an election because all the incumbents would be unopposed. How hypocritical! One of her self-serving acts after being elected was to raise the mayor’s pay and that of the council members at taxpayer expense. Council members take thousands of taxpayer dollars to pay their health insurance costs because they think the established stipends are insufficient for their part time efforts.

Ray Russom only agreed to pay taxpayers back the $18 for a shot of whiskey she charged on a city expense account after a local activist spotted it and complained. Nasty politics? Ray Russom voted to spend $100,000 of taxpayer funds to have the previous mayor “investigated” as she was planning to run against him. Concern for the taxpayers? Seriously? She’s only seems concerned to save herself the cost of a campaign.

Ms. Ray Russom is as concerned for the taxpayers as she is for civil and democratic process; her disdain for all is obvious. I’ve decided not to run for mayor at this time. Ray Russom may win in Arroyo Grande, but taxpayers, democracy, and civil discourse are the losers.

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This is why a local press is always needed — for a neutral observer to get all sides of any local problem.

What are your viewpoints and why are they considered diverse?

The old saying, if you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen, and you did!

What your stating as a attack, may of been the Mayor giving you the facts!!

It is a sad truth, it’s why you don’t see successful businessmen running for office, your first vote, you have disenfranchised half your customers and constituents alike!!!

Those facts limit the quality of candidates that throw their hat in the ring, Heidi Harmon and Adam Hill are prime local examples and so many more:(

Mrs Rigo, please reconsider your run against the $18 shot mayor…she’s AG’s Karen.

I do not know either of these people. I would have to see the original email to determine if there were threats, because I like to hear both sides of any argument. I do know that the mayor is correct in warning this woman about what can happen in a campaign, even in a small area like the Central Coast. The person running should indeed be ready to have their personal life discussed in news publications, online and by the public at large. Seemingly small incidents or events in someone’s past can be blown up and taken out of context. I see it all the time in local races. If the above person really wants to run for office then they should, but they should do it knowing full well what may happen and not let a simple email from an incumbent dissuade them.

Hey wait a minute.. you are entering politics. Do you expect the incumbent you are trying to unseat to send you a “welcome package”, gift cards or flowers? This is hardball here, always has been. The only odd thing is that most send surrogates to do what she is purported to have done. None the less, time to grow up a little rather than complain. YOU made the choice not to run, in other words her tactic worked. You need to be ALL IN, have a strong heart and character and an unswerving nerve to engage in the competition. In politics, you charge at the prize, or don’t compete. She did not get you out, you did that.

Right on target.

Candidates are not the nasty ones, but none the less it’s mean. The mayor has been raked over the coals here for years. It’s not a game for the weak or timid.

If she folded with one letter, she was looking for a way out.

Well….First, I do not know either of these people. I live in 5 cities area but Ransom is not my mayor. I think both things the mayor told her are true. Running for political office, even in a small town like AG can be very ugly business. It is also true unopposed incumbent elections cost less.I would need to see the actual email to see if she was just trying to give this person all the info or was actually threatening her? I don’t see threats or bullying in what was written above. I do think anyone running for public office should be prepared to deal with criticism, accusations, unfavorable articles written in publications and general unhappiness from the public. It comes with the territory, you need a pretty thick skin. Someone who decides to run for office would have to put up with way more than what appears to be a mild email and so maybe it was better for the the above letter writer to back out?

Based on this writing, it sounds like Lea would have been able to hold her own as a nasty campaigner.

It says a lot about her credibility when she does not include the actual email she received and instead cherry picks a few lines.

Hmmm sounds like we are not getting the whole story.


Here is the email…

Dear Lea-

I know it is quite unusual for a candidate to contact another candidate during the filing period, but this is too important not to discuss. You and I have corresponded before in a very friendly and constructive way, so I come to you in that spirit right now.

Let me start by saying I respect how much you care about the dunes, and that you want to do everything in your power to help get the park back open and protect it. I would not ever pretend that I have the same views as you, but I do want you to know that I not only support them reopening, but I had my letter read by the Chamber of Commerce president at the Coastal Commission against closing the park. We are not enemies.

I know from your online posts that you find me at least partially at fault for putting Council Member Paulding on APCD. That is not a meeting I can attend because I work full time, but I get that’s not your concern. You want the seat. It’s important for you to know that if you win, the seat is not automatically yours, nor was it mine.

But here is the really important part. IF you were to win for mayor, and IF the council voted to put you on APCD, you would have to step down and leave the room for any vote on the dunes because your business is financially tied to it. We are not allowed to vote on issues we could financially benefit from. This is straight-up California state law. So the one reason you are wanting to run is to get on APCD and make a difference, and you absolutely cannot do that. It is not likely the council would vote to put you there if you couldn’t fully participate, which you cannot, due to Freedom Ropes.

I know I have a vested interest in talking you out of running, so I understand you may not trust me here. But as Mayor, I absolutely have to say this next part, on behalf of the taxpayers.

Right now, no one else has filed for mayor or council seats. You would be the only challenger. If you do not run, we will be able to cancel the election, and that would save the taxpayers approximately $28,000. (You can ask the City Clerk, Kelly Wetmore to verify this). If you qualify tomorrow, there is no backing out, and we spend that during this very difficult Covid 19 time where we are all hurting. That decision to spend $28,000 of taxpayer money is entirely yours.

Lea, I honestly respect your willingness to step up to the plate and do something. Most people don’t have the guts to do that. I really want you to know that says a lot about you in a good way. But there are more effective things you can do in order to support the dunes, and running for mayor simply won’t get you there. You won’t even be able to do it. So you’ll go through all the ugliness of the election, put your kids and husband through that, air out all your dirty laundry for everyone to see and attach to your business, and all so you can’t vote on APCD if you even get there. Mother to mother, wife to wife, I just can’t sit back and not say anything to you as you make your final decision.

Again, it’s totally unusual for us to talk during the filing period, but I think this $28,000 gamble with taxpayer money for a seat on APCD that you cannot have is just not responsible, and won’t get you the outcome you want. It will put you and your family out into the ugly world of politics, which I assure you is nasty beyond your wildest dreams. Believe me, I’ve lived it for a long time.

Please feel free to call me tonight if you’d like to talk more as you make your decision. It is my sincere hope that you’ll reconsider, on behalf of the taxpayers and to make you the most effective activist you can be, but in a different way.

Best wishes,

Caren Ray Russom

Well, after reading the entire email I now feel justified in my earlier comments regarding Caren’s intentions being kind. She showed kindness to Lea and also demonstrated a true protective nature towards the AG taxpayers’ dollar. I have known Caren for a number of years and would have been very surprised to learn that she would threaten anyone.

I think Lea owes Caren a public apology for her disparaging article. It’s now apparent, after having read the whole email, that Lea may have had ulterior motivation for running for the AG Mayoral Office. It is possible that it could have been for personal financial gain, which is unfortunate. No wonder she chose not to share the complete email will us.

That’s it? That is the “threatening” email? Wow. Well I see one person attempting to give another person the benefit of her experience. In the email the mayor tells Lea that politics can expose you and yours to nastiness. And then to prove her right, Lea goes to this site and writes half truths and hyperbole about the mayor. If you think that letter is threatening? Then its best you don’t run.

This is terrible! She should be banned from being able to run. This is intimidation! Of course, why am I not surprised?

Maybe not quite as bad as claiming your opponent is against God, but, yes, definitely dirty. I would expect nothing less from Ms. Larson/Ray/Russom/Whatever.

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