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Bill Wells

Edgy Interview: Bill Wells

Meet Bill Wells, the charismatic Mayor of El Cajon, who took the reins of his vibrant east San Diego County city of 104,000 back in 2013. With a background in clinical psychology, Bill expertly navigates the complexities of city politics. Under his guidance, El Cajon is blossoming, focusing on community growth and innovative solutions. When he’s not in the mayor’s office, Bill might be found jamming on his guitar, relaxing with his wife Bettie, or enjoying a family barbecue, proving he’s as relatable as he is dedicated. He’s also running for Congress. Bill lays out his take on homelessness, details his taste in music, and even touches on his nickname in this free-wheeling Edgy Interview.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I love animals, so I considered being a veterinarian.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A musician (famous preferably), a husband, and a father.

You play multiple instruments. What are the most interesting aspects of each one?

I play piano, guitar, and sax. I’m best at piano and that is probably the reason I spend most of my time practicing it and ignoring the others. I love the way piano makes me feel more creative and I find it the most versatile for writing.

I started playing guitar because, at the time, I was working in piano bars, and I wanted to pull the guitar out in the last set (when everyone was good and drunk) and play fun rock and roll songs. I have learned to love writing on the guitar and it’s really the best way to write rock, country, blues, and folk songs.
The sax is my love-hate relationship. It’s the instrument I am the least talented at, but the one that is by far the most fun… when you do it well! It was also the instrument most likely to help me meet women (of course I’m talking waaaay back when I was young and single). To prove this point: it’s the only thing I play that really gets my wife Bettie’s attention. I had pretty much given it up when she one day came home with a very beautiful and very expensive Tenor. I took the hint.

Bill Wells playing the sax

What was your favorite musical genre as a teenager and what are you listening to now?

When I turned ten, I was given a record player and $10 for my birthday. I went to Tower Records to buy an album… but had no idea what to buy. I told my problem to the guy working there and he sold me a Seals and Crofts and an Elton John album. I wore both of those records out and I often thank God for the dude’s taste because he could have set me down a bad path. I discovered Billy Joel in high school and set out to learn as many of his songs as I could. I also loved Steely Dan, Tom Petty, Earth Wind & Fire, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Today I still listen to all the 70’s and 80’s pop and R & B, but I’ve added things like Michael Franks, Pink Martini, Steve Tyrell and a lot of other pop/jazz type of artists. I’ve loved Sting and the way he writes because I feel like we’ve had parallel musical lives, except for him being a megastar and me not so much.

First concert you attended and how did it make you feel?

I actually did not attend any concerts in high school. I know that’s strange, but I did start in college. My first was at the Backdoor at SDSU in 1980. I went to see Ricki Lee Jones. She was amazing… so cool. It made me feel cool and very grown up. She brought out a large bottle of Jack, set it on the piano and finished it by the end of the show. Even though I was never a huge fan, she got me interested in live music. I still like the smaller venues where you’re interacting with the performer. A few years later I was trying to make in in Hollywood as a songwriter and was in that world. I got to know many of the artists who became very big later and I got to listen late at night in little clubs or even the recording booth.

If you could go back in time, which former President would you like to chat with and what’s the topic?

I’d like to meet with President Lincoln and speak with him about the great divides that have hallmarked the political landscape of both of our societies. I would like to know if he believed in relative truth, or as I suspect, he believed that he was clearly on the side of right. How did he refrain from seeking vengeance and indulging in hatred? What advice would he give me about believing that there was clearly a side that is good and the side that is evil? Having been through a real shooting war, how would he suggest we proceed? Would Lincoln be horrified by the idea of burning it all to the ground to fight against evil, or would he say that that is the price we as a free nation must occasionally pay to find ourselves on God’s side? Either answer would likely be both fascinating and horrifying.

How did your previous career prepare you for politics and becoming mayor?

My career in mental health started in 1988 as a psych tech in a psychiatric hospital and led me all the way to being the CEO and founder of a psychiatric health care company that has clients throughout the state of California. In between, I ran a psychiatric emergency team, worked overnights in the ER doing psychiatric evaluations, been COO and Director of Outpatient Services and a lot of other jobs I can hardly remember. Along the way I earned two BS Degrees, an MS in Psychology and a Psy.D. in clinical psychology. If there is a health care business or psychiatric scenario I’ve not experienced, I would be very surprised. It taught me how to think, how to suffer, how to be tough, how to be compassionate, and how to serve mankind. I thank God for the life I’ve lived and for making me a useful leader.

What is your proudest accomplishment while serving as Mayor of El Cajon?

There are two that take equal space in my mind. The first was the near riot that was averted in 2015. We had an unarmed African American man shot by a police officer. It was just after the Ferguson Missouri incident and the country was a tinder box just waiting to be lit. Within hours of the shooting the streets were filled with BLM protestors. I worked with the local pastors, the NAACP, and the Urban league to navigate to a peaceful resolution. To make this happen, I had to make a very unpopular decision to release a video tape which in my mind explained it all. This was my first test of having to do what I thought was right even though it seemed that it would end my political career. In the end, all these things diffused the situation and there was no violence or property destruction.

The next was during COVID when I concluded that the lockdowns were misguided and harmful. I made the decision to order my police department to not enforce any COVID restrictions. I felt sure that though this was the right thing to do it was sure to end my political career. Surprisingly, it had the opposite effect and made me more, not less, popular. In the end, history has proved me right and I got the cool nickname of “COVID Bill.”

Why has homelessness exploded and what’s the best way for local government to deal with it?

I write and speak often about homelessness, probably because aside from being a Mayor I also have an RN and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, and I’ve spent 30 years doing psychiatric evaluations in emergency rooms. I can tell you that homelessness is almost entirely linked to drug and alcohol abuse and chemical dependency. Don’t believe me? Just ask any ER nurse, paramedic, or police officer. They will back me up. The state of California refuses to believe this and has wasted $25 billon on the “housing-first” model. That’s why the problem gets exponentially worse every year.

To make matters even worse, California has made homelessness very attractive. The state has decriminalized a great deal of crime, handcuffing the municipalities from using most of the tools at their disposal to discourage homelessness and by offering staggeringly generous benefits to those who want to live in filth and make our cities uninhabitable. I do not believe that allowing people to live like animals on the sides of the road and then die from addiction, exposure, and violent assault is a compassionate thing. I’m also starting to wonder if the Homeless Industrial Complex is really more motivated by cash than solving the problem.

What would you buy at auction if you had the chance?

My dad died when I was eight. He left me one thing, an Omega Sea Master watch. My mom saved it for me, but when I went back to claim it, it was gone. My wife bought me one just like it a few years ago, but I still wish I had his.

What are three foods you must always have in your refrigerator?

I like to have good cheese and crackers, Mexican food, and a Topo Chico. If I can arrange it, I like some left over Japanese gyoza, BBQ brisket, and pepperoni pizza to be at the ready. And, to be honest, ice cream.

Did you (or do you now) have a sports hero and what’s special about them?

It has to be Magic Johnson. Truthfully, I’m bored by the NBA now, but the Johnson era was a golden age, when players were doing incredible things on the court and having the time of their lives, redefining what a human being could do within the laws of physics. Sports should be fun, and Magic is the epitome of fun on the court. Always smiling and always moving. No look passes, contortionistic acrobatics, and a shot so smooth he made it look easy. Who’s even close now….oh and not sold out to communists.

Which reality TV show would you most like to compete on and why?

I’m sure it’s not around any longer but I really wanted to try out for American Gladiators. I especially liked the pugil stick competition. I like a good fight.

Take us through “Bill Wells’s perfect day.”

My perfect day would definitely not include yard work or a trip to Costco, but it could be so many other things. An early morning Jacuzzi with Bettie is a great thing and I’d always be happy to follow it up with tennis or golf (IF I’m playing okay). I am a family man and love to get the whole group over for a family party. Music is still wrapped around my favorite times and I restrict performing to just one benefit concert a year now; concert day is always a perfect day for me. I like a good battle if I’m fighting for right, so I’m usually pretty pumped up after going at it with some corrupt organization or politico. Though it’s not as outwardly exciting, I like taking my wife to church and then meeting up with friends for lunch after. Any day in the water on a hot day is hard to beat.

Bill and Bettie Wells

What’s the best professional advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?

My old boss, who eventually became a business partner, was universally loved and a bit feared by all. He told me to never be too busy to talk to every person on your staff. He told me to know them, know their problems and their triumphs. He said the CEO was actually the janitor’s servant. He also told me to always call out BS and never let anyone ever threaten you or push you around. Deal with it immediately preferably in public so it would never happen again… from anyone.

What advice would I give a young person who wants to run for office?

Do it for the right reasons. It’s a great calling and a pretty lousy career. Also, if you do decide to do it, go out into the world first and acquire some skills and experience that will make you useful. The new way of doing it, by getting an internship, which leads to a campaign position, which leads to a staff job and then to running for office, earns you a lot of friends in the business, but has nothing to do with serving the people. Go be a businessperson, or a soldier, or a teacher or something, before asking people to give you such an important job. Imagine a 23-year-old, never been married, marriage counselor. The degree is not enough to have something to offer.

Wells with Instruments
Bill Wells

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