Recent decisions by the state's political watchdog agency, led by Santa Clara County's former head lawyer Ann Ravel, disappointed some Silicon Valley political players looking to use the state's messy campaign laws to tar their foes as cheaters.
San Jose's police union won a hollow victory last week when the Fair Political Practices Commission upheld the cops' assertion that Mayor Chuck Reed broke rules by transferring $100,000 from his fiscal reform political committee to a committee backing council ally Rose Herrera's re-election. The FPPC undercut its finding of wrongdoing by fining the mayor a mere $1.
Ravel said there were "mitigating circumstances" in Reed's favor, including that his committee treasurer ran the money transfer by FPPC staff and got a green light. FPPC staff members later said they misunderstood the nature of the committee.
Meanwhile, the FPPC has quietly declined to probe assertions in the Metro and San Jose Inside that the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council under former leader Cindy Chavez, now a county supervisor, spent public county money inappropriately on political campaigns. Gary Winuk, chief of the FPPC's enforcement division, told us there wasn't enough evidence in the articles to launch an investigation and that there wasn't a formal complaint. The labor council, for its part, had asserted its innocence in a letter to Winuk by its lawyer, Lance Olson.
County finance director stays put -- for now
It's been nearly two months since Vinod Sharma announced in an Aug. 1 email to his staff that Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith had asked him to move over to a lower position at the county's Health and Hospital system and Valley Medical Center "starting immediately." Deputy County Executive Emily Harrison was to fill in as the interim finance director.
But Sharma hasn't budged. As we told you recently, the reassignment has become a "personnel matter," according to Smith. Lawyers are involved, and neither Sharma nor Smith would comment.
Sharma is said to be balking over the proposed reduction in his $181,929 salary that would come with moving to a lower-level controller job, though his lawyer wouldn't comment on that.
Sharma's attorney said matters are still under negotiation.
"Some allegations were made against him and he's going through a procedure to rebut those allegations and give his own side of the story," Harmeet Dhillon told us last week. Still, she acknowledged that her client is "expecting to change positions sometime in the near future."
Dhillon said the exact date has not been finalized, nor have the terms of his move.
Though Smith didn't say so, it's widely assumed Sharma's pending reassignment is linked to former Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr.'s spending scandal. Sharma had downplayed concerns that his controller-treasurer's office missed red flags that Shirakawa used taxpayer funds for personal entertainment.
San Jose Giants, city at odds over new lease
The San Jose Giants just wrapped up another impressive season of minor league baseball. One thing the team still hasn't resolved, however, is its lease for San Jose's Municipal Stadium.
That lease, last renewed in 2008, expires Sept. 30. Renewal would seem a perfunctory matter for a team that has performed well under its current lease. The 2013 season marked the Giants' fifth straight year of 200,000-plus attendance, levels the team never reached before 2009 and the San Francisco mother club's two World Series wins.
But the team is caught up in San Jose's fight with MLB and the San Francisco Giants to become the new home of the Oakland A's. It didn't help that a 2011 lawsuit by a group called Stand For San Jose seeking to block the city's A's ballpark said the San Jose Giants were among those it represented. Councilman Sam Liccardo and other city officials have since asked whether the city was giving the team too sweet a deal on its lease.
Daniel Orum, who took over as team president in January 2012, told city officials in May that the team isn't involved in the litigation, and a subsequent Stand For San Jose suit didn't mention the club. Still, no renewal terms have surfaced in time for Tuesday's City Council meeting, the last before the current lease expires.
Neither side would comment. But a June letter from Orum answering city questions offers insight to the sticking points. One is whether the Giants' $12,000-a-year rate is a below-market subsidy to the for-profit team.
In his response, Orum said the team is prepared to pay market rates "commensurate for a 71-year-old facility that is structurally substandard," and added that the team has spent $429,000 on maintenance and repairs on the city's creaky ballpark. Another hang-up involves efforts to secure stadium naming-rights revenue. Orum wrote that the team would need at least a 10-year lease to land a naming-rights deal.
Councilman's former aide wants OK to lobby
San Jose City Councilman Xavier Campos' former chief of staff, Josue Garcia, couldn't persuade Mayor Chuck Reed to waive the city's "revolving door" lobbying restrictions for him last week.
San Jose's "revolving door" rule bars former officials from lobbying City Hall for two years after they leave city employment so they don't ply old connections and unduly influence decisions.
Garcia left Campos' office Sept. 29, 2012, and now works as director of government relations and labor compliance for the Northern California Fire Protection Compliance Group, which monitors the work of fire sprinkler companies engaged in public works projects.
"I don't have much to go -- I have a year," Garcia told Reed's Rules and Open Government Committee, which sets council agendas. "And I wasn't here that long."
Reed said he "could not support a blanket waiver to allow staffers to come back and engage in lobbying activities," adding that it's "the whole reason for the revolving door" rule.
But the mayor didn't close the door entirely. The committee referred the matter to the city attorney to determine whether Garcia could continue in his job with limited restrictions.
Coincidentally, another former city official who was granted a revolving-door waiver was overseeing the meeting.
Lee Price, who retired as city clerk on Christmas in 2010 and took a position with a consulting firm, got a waiver in December 2012. She wanted to return as an adviser a few weeks before her revolving-door restriction expired to help manage the clerk's office after her successor, Dennis Hawkins, left for a job with Santa Clara County. Reed and the council approved it unanimously. Price was handling last week's rules committee meeting in place of Acting City Clerk Toni Taber.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 408-975-9346.