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Potential Arroyo Grande mayoral candidate claims incumbent mayor threatened her 

An Arroyo Grande resident who planned to run for mayor this November claims she opted out after current Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom sent her a lengthy message encouraging her to reconsider.

Lea Rigo-Hensley, a vocal advocate for off-roading at the Oceano Dunes and president of Freedom Ropes, a local business that sells tow ropes for trucks and RVs, told New Times that she wanted to run for mayor of Arroyo Grande because she disagrees with the current administration's stance on a number of issues.

click to enlarge NO CHALLENGERS An Arroyo Grande resident who planned to run for mayor this year says she decided not to after receiving a message from current Mayor Caren Ray Russom discouraging her from running. - FILE PHOTO BY CHRIS MCGUINNESS
  • NO CHALLENGERS An Arroyo Grande resident who planned to run for mayor this year says she decided not to after receiving a message from current Mayor Caren Ray Russom discouraging her from running.

But the day before candidate filing papers were due on Aug. 7, Hensley said she received a direct Facebook message from Russom cautioning Hensley of the "ugly world of politics" that Russom said is "nasty beyond your wildest dreams." In the message, Russom told Hensley that all her and her family's "dirty laundry" would be put on display for the public during the election. Russom also noted that Hensley likely wouldn't be able to vote on issues pertaining to the Oceano Dunes because of her business and ties to other pro off-roading organizations, including the Jerk Pirates.

In the message, Russom wrote that while she respected Hensley's willingness to run for office, becoming mayor wouldn't get Hensley her desired results.

"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," Russom wrote. "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 [Air Pollution Control District] 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."

Russom added that if Hensley did run, she would be the only candidate to challenge anyone on the Arroyo Grande City Council, forcing Arroyo Grande to hold an election in November, which Russom said would cost taxpayers about $28,000.

Hensley interpreted the message as "a direct threat" and decided not to run.

"Caren has harassed many of her past opponents and unfortunately some of them were hurt financially," Hensley wrote in an email to New Times. "I cannot take the chance that Caren will make good on her threat to somehow hurt my already hurting business. COVID-19 has all of our trade shows shut down, and our sales are down 80 percent from last year at this time."

"I feel like democracy is dead when leaders discourage people from wanting to be a part of positive change," she continued.

But Russom told New Times that she did not intend to threaten or discourage Hensley from running. Russom said she and Hensley have messaged back and forth repeatedly to discuss the dunes and Jerk Pirates. Their correspondence is typically friendly, Russom said, so her message regarding Hensley's potential bid for mayor felt appropriate.

In past comments and posts to social media, Russom said Hensley has made it clear that she's unhappy with Arroyo Grande City Councilmember Jimmy Paulding, who serves on the SLO County Air Pollution Control District board, and his stance on activities at the Oceano Dunes. Russom thought Hensley might be running for mayor to get a seat on the air pollution board.

"So when it became apparent to me that her main goal was to save the dunes," Russom told New Times, "I really thought it was important that she understood, because she's never served before, the conflict of interest issues with that."

"As a wife, mother, and as a guardian of taxpayer money," she added later, "I felt it was important to reach out to her and tell her how the system works."

Without any candidates challenging current Arroyo Grande City Council members, Arroyo Grande could cancel its November election. That will be decided at a special meeting on Aug. 18. Δ


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