When it comes to awards, timing can be everything. Just ask Michael Peevey, the longtime president of the California Public Utilities Commission and husband of Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu.
Last week, the Coalition of California Utilities Employees honored Peevey at a Sacramento confab for his "tireless work on system reliability and safety."
Which is dandy, except that it comes at a particularly sensitive time for Peevey and his agency.
Many question the PUC's regulatory resolve since the September 2010 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight and destroyed dozens of homes. State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has called for Peevey's ouster over what he considers a culture of "complacency" and "incompetence" at the agency.
The PUC has been accused of a too-cozy relationship with utilities it regulates -- Peevey, appointed in 2002, is a former Southern California Edison president. And the PUC is now weighing PG&E penalties for San Bruno amid claims that it reassigned lawyers urging stiffer fines. That flap also flared last week. A legal paper reported the PUC's top lawyer got heckled by his staff for a speech at a regulatory attorney conference that they felt questioned their loyalty and judgment.
So when Peevey showed up at the Sacramento event, an NBC Bay Area team pounced. In a report that led off with a woman whose daughter died in the blast calling Peevey's acceptance of the award "appalling," the news team asked Peevey to respond on camera.
"They chose to honor me," Peevey replied. "I'm more than pleased to be with them. That's all I have to say to you."
He added when asked what he'd done in the name of safety that "the record is pretty clear" and walked away.
Peevey later explained to us in a statement that accepting the honor simply showed his support for organized labor.
"As someone who grew up in a strong union family and was myself a union official for seven years," Peevey said, "the recognition of my efforts by these unionists is very gratifying."
Developer says he will help pal Shirakawa
Of the many mysteries surrounding former Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., there are still plenty of unanswered questions as he awaits sentencing on charges of misusing campaign and county funds and faces new allegations of sending illegal campaign mail.
Like how he's paying his legal bills.
The legal defense fund he started in December still lists a lone $100 donation from " Shirakawa. But his top-flight legal team -- defense attorneys John Williams and Jay Rorty -- don't come cheap.
There's been some speculation from the George-haters that political consultants, lobbyists and developers hoping to keep a lid on whatever secrets the ex-supe might know about them are secretly picking up the tab.
We checked back with one developer and Shirakawa campaign contributor, John Vidovich, who told us in February that if Shirakawa asked him to donate to his legal fund, he would do so. So has he?
"I have not been asked to help out with the legal bills," said Vidovich, who acknowledged he wouldn't tell us even if he were. Shirakawa, he said, is a friend -- and he'll help him to an extent, though he wouldn't offer details.
"I think it's very common in this valley -- particularly on the political side of things -- to abandon people as soon as you have trouble," Vidovich said. "I am not ready to abandon him as a friend."
Vidovich said he has met with Shirakawa at least twice since he resigned, inside the developer's Sunnyvale offices. He said the former supervisor is embarrassed and ashamed of his actions. More importantly, he said, Shirakawa needs treatment for his gambling addiction, and the recent delay in his sentencing is impeding that.
Was Vidovich paying for any treatment, we wondered?
"Whatever I do for George is private," he said.
"Money will not help George. That's not the solution. If you're a gambling person, and you give them money, they are likely to gamble. If you can help them be productive, I think that's the best way you can help somebody. They need self-esteem. They need to be convinced they have value, and I think George does have a lot of talent."
S.J. city manager says no thanks to a raise
Raises have been the big topic of discussion at San Jose City Hall as officials wrapped up the budget for the coming fiscal year. That's a refreshing change from the ugly fights with city unions over pay cuts to reduce layoffs. But it doesn't mean there's no bitterness as city leaders dangle 2.5-percent raises to workers who took 10-percent pay cuts. Even cops offered 9 percent over two years to keep them from quitting say that's not enough.
At least one top official has gotten more: Mayor Chuck Reed urged a 9.65-percent hike for Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell in December.
But City Manager Debra Figone wants y'all to know she'll once again fall on her salary sword for the sake of appearances, declining a 2-percent raise that the City Council had offered her and City Attorney Rick Doyle.
Though cops and wastewater plant workers are fleeing under her watch amid austerity budgets brought on by soaring employee retirement costs, you could argue that Figone earned a bump. After all, even with her own pay trimmed back 10 percent, she's had protesters demonstrating in front of her home and razzing her at a restaurant over the cuts. But in a memo thanking the mayor and council for the offer, she said she'd have none of it.
"Although we continue to make real progress to achieve and sustain the city's long-term fiscal stability, I think that as the city manager it is an important symbolic gesture to our entire staff to show that employees come first as we move toward a sustainable recovery," Figone said. "To this end I have filed the appropriate paperwork for an irrevocable waiver of the increase."
Figone, paid a total of $255,847 in 2012, added that "this is my personal decision, and by no means do I suggest that other employees should do the same."
Oliverio, S.J. firefighters are fighting again
More than most San Jose City Council members, Pierluigi Oliverio has had a strained relationship with the city's firefighter union. Back in 2010, when he was pushing measures to limit arbitration awards to cops and firefighters and allow reduced pension benefits for new city hires, Oliverio got in a spat with firefighter union members who accused him of stealing their opposition lawn signs. Oliverio argued the union illegally placed them on public property. Someone shot video as police arrived to calm things down.
Those issues still burn at City Hall: A judge just ordered the firefighter union to arbitration with the city over reduced pensions for new hires. And Oliverio is jumping back into the fray with a memorandum urging the council to order a freeze on new firefighter hires until the union accepts a reduced pension benefit for them. We expect the fireworks to continue.
Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Tracy Seipel, John Woolfolk and Paul Rogers. Send tips to email@example.com, or call 408-975-9346.