You know that things have gotten well beyond ugly at San Jose City Hall when both politicians and union leaders start online polls to further their interests. It began last weekend when Councilman Sam Liccardo authored a blog that explained his plan to add 200 more cops over the next four years.
Liccardo, a likely mayoral candidate in 2014, included language that was mildly critical of proposals from the San Jose Police Officers' Association, saying, "Let's increase police pay at a rate that we can afford." To drive his point home, he urged people to complete a hard-to-oppose online petition that endorsed his plan.
The next day, SJPOA President Jim Unland responded with a sterner message, labeling Liccardo a liar and saying that his police staffing proposal would never work. Unland argues that the city is losing police officers faster than it can hire them -- in large measure because of actions by the council.
Unland urged his readers to sign a counter-petition, which he dubbed "giving Sam Liccardo a dose of truth." It ended with this admonishment to Liccardo: "Stop proposing political stunts to reinvent yourself in the public's eye and take responsibility for your votes that are dismantling the San Jose Police Department and putting neighborhood safety at risk."
The backdrop of all this is an ongoing political war between the officers' union and City Hall over pay and benefit cuts the mayor and council members, including Liccardo, sought to balance budgets as pension costs soared and the economy slumped.
We won't pretend to referee this death match. But in the interests of sanity, we'd like to propose our own online questionnaire. Call it a petition to end all petitions. Go to www.mercurynews.com/internal-affairs and answer this simple question: "Do you think political figures should stop self-serving online petitions?" Yes or no. We won't even ask your name.
Former S.J. mayor on panel; Santa Clara shut out
The Bay Area Super Bowl Host Committee this past week rolled out its latest roster with a few new names -- including former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales.
Now the CEO of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, Gonzales left office in 2006 after being indicted, and later cleared, on corruption charges related to a garbage contract. He also had an affair with an aide he eventually married.
Gonzales comes to the host committee after some criticism that the 29 local dignitaries on the roster were mostly San Francisco-based even though the 50th Super Bowl will be played at the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium in Santa Clara. Most of the other Super Bowl events will be held in the City by the Bay.
The group was also made up of mostly white people, even though the NFL fan base is wildly diverse.
Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, remains on the list as the other South Bay homer. Top officials at a few Silicon Valley mega-companies, such as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Google Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora, remain on the committee, which is mostly honorary but will help plan the February 2016 title game and events. No Santa Clara city officials are on the committee.
Of the other five new members of the group, four are executives at companies that have recently donated millions of dollars to offset the public costs of the extravaganza: Apple, Gap, Boston Consulting Group and Intel. An executive for entertainment company Live Nation is also now on board.
Since the NFL awarded the big game to the Bay Area in May and the group transformed from a "bid committee" to a "host committee," three people have left the panel: Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple CEO Steve Jobs; Visa CEO Joseph Saunders, who has since retired; and HP vice president Todd Bradley, who has since been reassigned within the company.
Firefighter who emailed teenager wins his case
On Thanksgiving in 2008, a 16-year-old Leland High School girl took a "cookie pie" to San Jose Fire Station 28 to thank the firefighters for their service. During that visit, she met a 35-year-old firefighter, Grant Seibert. Thus began one of the thorniest of the city's personnel cases.
Seibert took the girl's photo and started exchanging emails with her. He insisted that he thought she was 18. On Dec. 15, 2008, after she complained about a hurt elbow, he sent her an overtly sexual email, describing a paramedic fantasy of how he would examine and probe her.
When the girl's father discovered the email, he was enraged and went to the firehouse. City officials decided Seibert had crossed the line and fired him.
He took his case to court, enlisting another firefighter who said the girl had claimed to be 18 -- as well as a captain who said the girl and her friends appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s. The city called that preposterous, arguing that the girl had said she was a Leland junior and noting that Seibert asked in an email whether she was on a —'family' computer."
Early this month, Superior Court Judge Franklin Bondonno sided with Seibert, saying that his conduct, while tawdry, didn't merit firing. If the emails had been sent to an adult, the judge said, they would not have broken the city's policies (for more on the email and judge's decision, see www.mercurynews.com/internal-affairs).
At the City Council meeting last Tuesday, City Attorney Rick Doyle announced that the city would appeal Bondonno's decision.
"We think the judge simply got it wrong," Doyle said.
Peacemaker candidate takes his cases to court
John Mlnarik, the 36-year-old attorney who ran unsuccessfully last fall for a seat on the Santa Clara City Council, had said in a League of Women Voters questionnaire that "I regularly mediate conflicts and aim to achieve sustainable, productive outcomes."
Since then, he's sued the city of Santa Clara, a Santa Clara couple and a Santa Clara blogger.
After being cited and fined $250 in November by the city of Santa Clara for violating a $250 campaign contribution cap (his law firm had lent Mlnarik's campaign $6,586), Mlnarik has repeatedly appealed the decision against him.
In March, he sued a couple after one of their two miniature pinscher dogs allegedly bit him last year when he went to meet with them and put a campaign sign in their yard. Mlnarik is seeking $30,000 in damages.
Then in August, he sued Santa Clara blogger James Rowen for defamation on Rowen's Mission City Lantern blog.
Among other comments, Rowen wrote that Mlnarik could be considered the "newest Bond villain," and "the Melky Cabrera of Santa Clara," whose political campaign was "based on political steroids." Cabrera was a San Francisco Giants outfielder suspended in 2012 after violating league drug policies. Mlnarik wants $390,000 in damages for the insults. He wouldn't comment on his legal matters.
Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Scott Herhold, Mike Rosenberg, Tracy Seipel and Paul Rogers. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 408-975-9346.