Rich Tran ignited a mini-media firestorm last month by cribbing President Barack Obama’s historic 2008 election night speech in his first public remarks as mayor of Milpitas. Rather than apologize, Tran told San Jose Inside he was proud of his plagiarism and expected a video of his Obama’s speech to go viral “because I’m a millennial.”
In defending himself to a Milpitas Post reporter, the 31-year-old elected also repurposed some lyrics by Jay Z, one can assume, because he’s a millennial.
But in a call Tuesday, Tran took a much more cautious approach, asking to go off the record before answering an innocuous question about the video series he’s launching to sum up each council meeting for constituents.
“Let’s see,” Tran said, sounding a bit hesitant. “I need to be careful about words here.”
Milpitas’ outsourced city attorney, Chris Diaz, reportedly urged that kind of caution when it comes to Tran’s written communications, after the new mayor violated the Ralph M. Brown Act in early January. Tran broke open-meeting laws by sending emails to the entire City Council. State law requires almost all public business to be done in open session meetings so a majority is not formed behind closed doors.
According to sources inside City Hall, one of the emails Tran sent included a link to a a news article with a request for further discussion. At least one other council member, Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli, responded using the “reply all” function, which ostensibly makes her just as guilty of taking part in an online meeting beyond the public scope.
Brown Act violations happen in virtually every public agency, and in Tran’s case it seems unwitting. But similar serial digital communications have drawn stern warnings from prosecutors in other jurisdictions.
“I take full responsibility,” said Tran, who has since gone through Brown Act training along with his other newly elected colleagues. “I didn’t know it was a violation at the time and there’s been no trend or continuation of wrongdoing.”
None of the emails involved policy discussions, he assured San Jose Inside. To be sure, we have submitted a public records request to view the entirety of his emails sent to and from his mayoral account since taking office. Tran called the blunder a lesson learned.
“I’m not hiding anything,” Tran said. “My residents know who they elected, and they know that I’m going to learn along the way.”
If anything, Tran insisted, he’s an open book. That’s part of why he’s also producing a documentary about himself.
“It’s about Obama’s legacy and how he inspired the youngest mayor in Silicon Valley to run for office,” Tran said. “I want it to go viral.”