Big Wheels and Officeholder Accounts

City Hall Diary

Did you ever borrow a friend’s toy as a kid because you didn’t have one of your own? I did.  I would borrow my friend’s Big Wheel.  My parents advised me to be happy with what I had and warned me about becoming dependent on borrowing my friend’s toy for fulfillment.  Well, I didn’t listen to my parents’ sound advice.  Instead, I wanted to ride the Big Wheel more and more.  So, I gave the owner Twinkies and cupcakes in exchange for riding the Big Wheel. 

After a short time, I did become dependent on my friend’s Big Wheel.  Sometimes I would become angry if I couldn’t ride it because I felt it was my right. After all, I gave my friend a cupcake and, in turn, he should return the favor.

My borrowing of the Big Wheel is like asking for money for an officeholder account; neither is unconditional and both have expectations that might get out of hand. An officeholder account, also known as a friend account, is a pot of money that council members have solicited from people they know. It is campaigning.  The limit for an account is about $10,000. Most of the time, the folks who give money want something from the council member—perhaps funding for a group or, more often, a zoning change and/or land use issue passed.  The soliciting of funds for an account to use while in office is a conflict of interest.

For many years, San Jose city council members have had the ability to have an officeholder account to pay for items and expenses at their own discretion.  Most of these expenses from the account are spent in the community for constituent functions like school and community events. 

Council members are expected to attend these community events as part of their job and are happy to do so.  As we know, the council member’s pay is low and to assume or expect council members to spend thousands of dollars on events would not be fair.

Officeholder accounts should be eliminated as we know them today.  Instead, I would propose that each council office should receive at least $3,000 a year to attend community events (NOT political events). $3,000 is an appropriate amount. If a council member has an existing officeholder account, then they should be allowed to spend down that account; but, in the future, the city should do away with them.

I believe that most council members use the money justly and appropriately. However, with the city converting industrial land, it makes me wonder what would happen if the big developers, lobbyists and people of influence were not able to fund officeholder accounts. Would elected officials be less likely to be influenced? 

Let’s do away with officeholder accounts and find out. 

14 Comments

  1. Hotdamn! Now that’s a topic, officeholder accounts. Seems like the solution should be obvious, but I’ll bet you’re going to lose the vote on eliminating it, IF you get a second on your motion. Do other cities nearby have these accounts? SF? Are the contributions and their contributors listed in a website, or must one go to CH to wade through paper to get them? Can these monies be spent on campaigns, and/or is there ANY restriction on spending them? Another topic you might consider sunshining: unions and historical conservationists, etc., maybe even neighborhood associations, being classified as lobbyists. Why would they object? Politicians are strongly influenced by other forces than real estate developers. Taxpayers, even in clumps now and then, are brusquely ignored, but so often ONE well placed “advisor” , or group perceived as indispensible to being elected, is never verlooked. On the positive side, how come GOOD advisors are not welcome in SJ? The weekend piece on Santana Row, by Alan Hess, names the names of those whose VISION for that great place got past SJ Planners—but not anywhere near The Deciders on the Council. George Green

  2. Why is it I can relate to Councilmember Oliverio life experiences?  I just can’t see Members’ Cortese or Williams recalling the glory days or riding a borrowed Big Wheel…

    As for the officer holder accounts: (from the Merc)

    “After a grand jury accused him of secretly promising city funds to ensure that workers at recycling subcontractor California Waste Solutions got paid Teamster’s union wages, one of the first things Mayor Ron Gonzales did was to call the report ‘‘slanderous’’ and ‘‘shoddy.’‘
    One of the NEXT things he did was to return a total of $1,500 he had received from the Teamster’s and the president of California Waste Solutions, documents filed in recent weeks reveal.
    Two groups affiliated with the Teamster’s—the Bay Area Union Labor Party and Teamster’s Local Union No. 665—were among the dozens of donors giving $500 apiece to Gonzales’ ‘‘office holder account’’ at an April 20 fundraiser breakfast at the San Jose Hyatt.
    A couple of weeks earlier, David T. Duong, president of California Waste Solutions, had also given $500 to the account, which each council member has for travel and other expenses.
    Gonzales’ spokesman said the mayor ‘‘made the call’’ to return the funds in order ‘‘to keep an appropriate distance from the kind of speculation that might have occurred if he hadn’t returned the checks.’’ “
    Yes, the elimination of Friends Accounts are long overdue, but I would suggest the $3,000 can be used not just to ATTEND, but to support or donate to events that you chose.
    Another great Monday post.

  3. Great idea Pierluigi – Do away with all officer holder accounts that receive solicited funds or accept donations and allocate $3000 taxes and list what taxes are spent on

    What about Council and Mayor accountability and disclosure for officeholder accounts today?

    Do all Council members and Mayor have office holder accounts?

    Where is list of office holder account contributors and spending on city web site?  What about yours?

    If not on web site, why not?

    Constant put his calendar up first on web , will you be first for officer holder accounts?

  4. Pierluigi,
    Good idea, but it is only a start.  We should eliminate the way we fund our city elections.
    It should not be about money.  Why not let   each districts have an account that citizens or special interests can contribute to.  This account would be split evenly between all the candidates in the district.  The money could be spent on such things as position papers and debates.  Do we really need the lawn signs and TV- radio adds?  This also would enable elected officials to spend more time on the job and less time on raising funds.  Most importantly, it would be a great training ground.  It would teach them how to get the most out of a limited budget.

  5. Dear San Jose:

    Once again, Pierluigi is rocking the boat.  I don’t understand how this guy made it onto the council.  He seems to think that public service means, well, public service.  The people of San Jose are not conditioned to this sort of thinking.

    Bravo Pierluigi!

    Pete Campbell

  6. The system is fine the way it is now.  Giving money to politicians in return for favors is a wonderful system that works.

    It reminds me of the 1935 movie “Top Hat”.  Fred Astaire embraces Ginger Rogers, looks her in the eyes and as the music of Irving Berlin begins to play, he sings:

    Heaven, I’m in heaven.

    And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.

    And I seem to find the happiness I seek,

    When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.

    Mr. Oliverio, please don’t let the dance end.

    Janet McLean
    Lobbyist for home builders

  7. This is not a new idea. Chuck Reed’s transition team spoke about this and has alreadty referred it for action. The conversation was led by Constant, Cortese and Licardo. The Rules Committee has discussed it and the Mayor’s Budget Message references Office Holder Accounts and reserves money to be used for this exact purpose.

    PLO, dont take credit for what others started way before you were elected!

  8. #7,
    You are right, this was proposed about ten years ago by Pandori and Dando but go over well with the Hammer Girls. 

    But now with Oliverio on board, looks like Constant, Cortese, Liccardo and Reed just need one more vote to get it through!

    Using the $125,000 Arena Naming rights to fund this (as suggested by the Mayor) may allow it to be bumped to $10K.  Which is fine – there will be lots of requests for “helping out” on fund raisers in a year.  Spread the LOVE!

  9. #7
    New idea or not; at least it is one more shoulder straining to right the listing ship.  A new voice to add attention and weight to a good idea is not a bad thing.

  10. Pierluigi—

    Excellent idea.  The city, not special interests, should pay for councilmember discretionary accounts. 

    Further, I think the city can afford to pay more than $3,000 per councilmember annually (or $33,000 altogether) for this purpose.  At $10,000 per councilmember, it would be $110,000 annually, or less than the typical outside consultant contract. 

    I know that these discretionary funds are used to host things like neighborhood summits that provide big bang for the buck—something that cannot be said of the ubiquitous outside consultants. 

    By the way—nice to see you out and about last weekend supporting great events in D6 like the Buena Vista Home Tour and the Preservation Action Council of San Jose function in a Shasta Hanchett mansion.  It’s these sorts of unheralded grassroots efforts that make San Jose a great city.

  11. Our city has office holder accounts, too.  I don’t think anything bad would happen if we got rid of them.

    #8- No one said ending office holder accounts was a new idea.  Mr. Oliverio said it was a good idea, and he’s right.

  12. Officeholder accounts should be increased, not reduced or eliminated.

    Council members should support Bob Brownstein and his efforts.

    Big developers are good for San Jose, they create jobs and build attractive buildings while razing junky old buildings.

    Council members need to go after greedy taxpayers who are selfish with their money and are always crying.

    Gary

  13. Right on #13 Gary,
    We should destroy our Past, ruin our future and live in the moment, while we wonder why we can’t balance our budget.  Oh wait a minute, that is what we have been doning in SJ for the past 50 years.  Excepting the Mc Enery era.

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