A Crisis Averted

The campaign for mayor is getting into full swing with several crises and a set of pronouncements from the aspirants for the job.  The main topic is one that has preoccupied the press and alternately paralyzed, polarized, and pushed the City Council into action – lobbyists.  The questions have revolved around who they are and what influence and ties they have to the Mayor and Council. This crisis can be easily avoided.

The Mercury News editorial board has apparently risen from their post-Yarnold slumber and now seem to be aggressively pushing for more disclosure following a series of front page stories.  You all remember those halcyon days when the news side of the paper actually did research and wrote searing articles about errors and corruption before the editorial pages did. They may begin to do their own original research and exposure again. 

Council Members Dave Cortese and Chuck Reed have both said that they would push for amendments to the city’s ordinance later this summer. Basically, many top developers, as well as big labor, have not qualified as “lobbyists.” Instead, the ordinance stands the world on its head and definitely asks again the decade-old question of what “is” is.

The chair of the Council’s Ethics Task Force, Ken Yeager, said that he wanted to review why more companies weren’t registering, but he wasn’t ready to offer specific reforms.  I can answer the first part.  Most of the special interests in San Jose politics know that only a few Council Members care about this “reform.”  The rest consider it an annoyance and a joke.  Council Member Forrest Williams even said that he didn’t know why any of this was being done and that he couldn’t see the need for it. 

Nominations for the “hear no evil, see no evil” award are now open. Perhaps, Mr. Williams should ask Terry Gregory about the need for any “reform stuff”.

Let it suffice to say that Williams and Yeager would not know what to say to Mark Felt, or where to meet him.

Much of this could be ended quickly with a swift pronouncement from Ron Gonzales and I think that it may come soon.  He certainly does not want his last year in office marred by more of what he regards as mere contretemps.  “Count all lobbying as lobbying,” he will say. “Open up your appointment calendars” – that should cause a few eyes to glaze over from boredom – “and call it a day.”  None of the lobbyists plying their trade at City Hall are even vaguely concerned. Just spell their name right and they will laugh all the way to the bank.

26 Comments

  1. Tom,

    You make good points but for any serious change to occur San Jose residents must pay attention.  Unfortunately apathy is growing if you look at yesterday’s district 7 election.  I am shocked that San Jose with a population approaching one million residents could have elected a person to the city council with a little more than 3,500 votes.  Only 7,020 people (plus a few uncounted write in’s) bothered to vote yesterday to replace Terry Gregory.

  2. Everyone in this building knows that the Mayor and Council doctor their calendars.  If they had to sign them and swear that they were accurate then you might have something worth looking at. 

    Want a test?  Request Ron Gonzales’ calendar and see how often he lists his golf games with developers and lobbyists.

  3. Tom is correct.

    A lobbyist friend of mine in SF believes his reporting requirements are the best public relations program he receives throughout the year.

    Everytime they put his dollar amounts and clients names in the newspaper it is like free advertising, he says.

    The fact he charges his clients by the hour and therefore takes his time going through the process (often sitting and billing through entire planning commission meetings for his one item) and despite the fact he doesn’t have a very good record of getting things through the maze of San Francisco politics.  He remains a “top” lobbyist in the City.

    Lobbyists have received a bad rap on this board because of their perceived influence on policy.  But I don’t see much evidence of that in San Jose.

    Lobbyists are helpful guiding their clients through the process.  They have relationships that help get their clients through the bureaucracy, which is the single biggest obstacle to any progress in government.

    But, believe it or not, the merits of a project, community support, staff support and the weight of a Mercury News editorial continue to be far more influential on policy than lobbyists and/or campaign contributions.

    But why have a rational discussion about what really influences policy when we can all believe the myth?

    As I will invariably suffer the catcalls of those who confuse me with a lobbyist and therefore note that I have a “personal interest”, I just want to be clear, my business is community relations and politics. 

    Though I have tremendous respect for those who are willing to suffer the savage press, the enormous paperwork and ncompromising loathing that comes with the title of “lobbyist.”

    Even as they are among the most oppressed people in our society,  I consider many to be my friends.

  4. Steve,

    The demand for democracy and the people’s right to vote resulted in a low voter turnout election and an enormous cost to the city. 

    A minority of a minority cast their vote so we can have another run-off election to allow the “will of the people” to prevail.

    The David Cortese’s of the world have spoken.  That strong stand was taken right here on this blog.

    Democracy must be allowed to flourish in district 7, an appointment for two years would not serve the people of District 7 because only the elite would have a say in their representation.  That was the rationale.

    Blogger after blogger insisted on the “peoples right to vote”.  Damn the expense.

    I submit the low voter turnout is a representative sample of the elite.  I also believe the eventual winner would have been the appointed person anyway.

    But, hey, it was the popular stand.  There is no price too high for democracy to prevail in district 7, regardless of the fact that a majority of their people care little about who represents them.

    I’m glad we all chipped in,  as we cut librarians, police and fire—remember got democracy, or a reasonable facsimile, in District 7.

  5. Shades of Casablanca—Yeager is shocked to know there is lobbying going on that is not reported.

  6. The mayor and the councilmembers call themselves public servants, but most are just self serving.

    If you really consider yourself a public servant, Mr. Mayor, then the public you “serve”  has a right to know everything you do in your capacity as Mayor.  That means all calendars should be published.

    Since SJ likes to call itself the Capital of Silicon Valley, all elected members’ calendars and all department heads’ calendars should be posted on line, and available hard copy at City Hall and all libraries.

    Public employees are public servants.  The public that pays them has the right to know exactly what they earn.  Their “privacy” rights regarding their salaries and perks don’t exist by virtue of their status as public employees.

    Our new ethics law has loopholes large enough to fly the new Airbus through.

    Terry Gregory extorted constituents, but the taxpayers of the entire city will pay for two special elections with a ridiculously low turnout.  He should have been made to pay for the elections as part of his plea bargain.

    There’s a lot of apathy out there, but who cares?

    John Michael O’Connor

  7. morally troubling behavior is a hallmark of past and present council members….it is offensive that they dismiss any inquiries into their behavior or motives. It is truly morally troubling. the pols are petty and deceptive on almost every district project they work. the merc paints with a broad brush stroke but rarely goes after the decievers as individuals…unless of course the behavior becomes becomes so blatantly bizarre as terry gregories’. what about pat dando’s exiting of office that resulted in nancy pyle having no files to refer to after taking office?…not to mention other unaccountable behavior while in office designed to decieve her constituency,i.e.like the attempted renaming of the almaden library.every councilmember should be held accountable to their district and to their city. i hope there is reform. good luck tom.

    san jose citizen

  8. Rich,
        Do you really consider 11 City Council votes to be more worthy than those of 7,020 citizens in District 7? 
        Any way you count it the people of District 7 have the opportunity to chose their own representative. It will not be a City Hall pick as some insiders would like. I think that’s great, but I’m not dismissive of “the peoples right to vote.”

  9. Who needs lobbyists? Labor runs the city – not the council. They are just elected muppets that are moved to the beat of the union drums.

    Until the council make-up is more representative of interests other than that of the labor groups, the city will never be run in a way that is in the best interest of the residents as a whole.

    Perfect example: The only announced candidate for LeZotte’s council seat next year is a shill of the south bay labor council. (see Metro’s Fly two weeks or so ago) – The same person Amy Dean said 3 years ago that she picked for the position.

  10. Oh how I long for the days of my youth when men like Ernie Renzel and George Starbird listened to men like John McEnery and A J Hart and ran the city. Honest men, honorable men who didn’t need or demand a hundred thousand dollars or more in pay to decide the policy of San Jose.

    When city and county offices were NON PARTISAN!

    When people like lobbyists were not allowed in polite company!

    Old Man Rosenthal

  11. Really? All public servants should disclose their calendars?

    Ask Pat Dando why she refused to disclose her appointment calendar now that she’s working for the governor. The FOIA request is public record. Check it yourself.

    She refused to disclose one scrap of information.  And yet, she’s still a public servant.

  12. Ambrose Bierce once said that “Hypocrisy is prejudice with a halo.”  Enter my countryman Tom McEnery.

    My dear Lord Mayor wished to earn his halo through revisionist history.  However, that is not going to pass muster.

    You see in his world, honest white men used to run this city.  They were benevolent dictators and the hoi polloi had not place in their decisions.  Oh how my lad Tom misses those days.

    Dear Tommy wishes that all calendars of public officials were made open to the public.  Yet, under of Dear Lord Mayor’s administration he never opened his calendar to the public.

    Dear Tommy derides the current lobbyist laws as too lax, yet when they were far less stringent Tommy had a hard time following them himself.  He worked as a paid “consultant” for the San Jose Sharks and lobbied City Councilors not to do things like move the Golden State Warriors to San Jose.  He never registered.

    Good work if you can get it and certainly in the City’s interest, eh Tommy.

    Dear Tommy, do you remember Silver Creek?  Did we hear about your meeting with the landowners and developers out there?  Did you speak publicly about them?  We all know the answer now don’t we Tommy.

    Tommy do you remember the bundled checks you used to receive from your lads, Dan Hancock, Reid Gustafson, Rich Cristina, Murray Hall, Don Imwalle and the rest of Bells?  I don’t think you bothered to make them properly public no did you?

    Dear Tommy, here’s one I am surprised you have not championed – public phone logs.  The Editorial Board wants them, yet you could never imagine giving them up.  Your Chief of Staff used to destroy them like clockwork.  But ol’ Dean was recently anointed by Yarnold a “clean government advocate.”

    It’s no wonder you laud the former corrupt Editor as pure and noble.

    Tommy, I scarcely read this thing but every once in a while when I do, I have to admire your hypocrisy.  Don’t worry. Your lap dogs on Ridder Park Drive admire your halo.

  13. Richard,
    Did you have an extra bowl of lobbyist flakes for breakfast yesterday?

    – the ‘intrusive’ public is misguided in their mistrust of politic officials
    – there’s issues that are worse than the corruption down at CH – so why bother?
    – Citizens don’t have the necessary information to be enlightened as insiders such as yourself – so let’s not bother with all this transparency stuff. 

    Let’s ease up on our misunderstood lobbyists who are just innocent bystanders in all this and merely the victims of a corrupt system.

    Let’s cut our lobbyist community some slack and continue to preserve all the shadows in which they operate and stop all this silliness about exposing the “positive relationships” they have with our public officials.  smile

  14. It is very sad what happened in District 7.  It just shows what’s happening in the city and country.  Apathy rules!  Unions rule!  The people get the shaft.  It didn’t matter who was appointed or elected Ron golfman Gonsalez and the lobbist and unions tell him what to do.  He has to make friends where is his next job going to be back in Sunnyvale or back to Suporvisios chambers.

  15. Novice,

    I’m all for tranparency, I just don’t think Ron’s calendar tells us anything new.  He has enough forms to fill out to satisfy our ‘right to know’. 

    Rich

    P.S. The only lobbyist flakes I know of appear in the editorial section of the MN.

  16. Sorry, but I just don’t buy your brand of “community relations” in which the “community” can’t be trusted to select it’s own representatives but city leaders are allowed to self perpetuate like blobs of cell-splitting amoebas.
      The fact that some District 7 residents did not vote evades the issue. Over 7,000 did cast their ballots. It’s called democracy and it’s a concept that I suspect most San Joseans cherish.
      Even if the eventual winner is the same person that you predict the Council would have appointed she will go into office with the legitimacy of a fair an honest process, not City Hall deal-making.
      The cost of the election? Give me a break! Chump change when compared to other city expenditures…and worth every cent. 
        As for the rest…to equate the District 7 elections with the breakdown of government is a bit far-fetched. Have you considered that those 7,020 voters went to the polls to strengthen their local government? I say hooray for them.

  17. Yesterday many seemed to agree that turnout in the district 7 election was quite low.  Today in a Mercury News article about the election, Rodney Foo wrote that the turnout was “a surprisingly high 25.1 percent.” Later in the article Mr. Foo wrote:

    “The district’s strong turnout in an election—unofficial results show 7,312 people voted out of 29,069 registered voters—was a higher-than-expected vote count and gave politicians pause.”

    Does anybody have an idea what standard the Mercury News is applying to come to the conclusion that a 25 percent turnout is high?  We do know Mercury News columnists read sanjoseinside.com looking for ideas, maybe one can ask Mr. Foo to respond.

  18. Mal Content,

    The Community can make good decisions when they have information, thus the need for community relations folks.

    Steve,

    A 25% turnout in a special is 10% above the norm.  The District should have 60,000 eligible voters, 29,000 bothered to register and 7312 of those voted.

    So the real number of participants is around 11 or 12%-which we now consider high.  As you need only half to win—a little over 6% of the people will determine the best choice for District 7.

    Viva la democracy!!

    Do youself a favor, save the money next time. 

    I think half a million dollars plus, while a paltry amount, could pay for a few city services, maybe a little gas for city cars—whatever. 

    Half a million dollars here, half a million dollars there—pretty soon you’re starting to talk about real money.

    P.S. *Note a new poll shows that 6% of the people in District 7 consider themselves lobbyists—just kidding.

  19. Mal Content,

    I believe it was a poor decision to fund a special election in District 7 just to placate the “right to vote”crowd.

    District 7 would have been well-served, probably by the same person that will be elected, for two years without a “special” election.  City policy isn’t going to change, nobody would be disenfranchised and the taxpayers would be saved the cost of a “special election”.

    We have representative government just for that reason.  The people neither care (as is seen in voter turnout) nor have the necessary information (as witnessed on this board) to make decisions in mass on major issues facing this society. 

    The perils of direct democracy were foreseen by those who wrote the Constitution.  If you don’t trust the elected officials vote them out in the next election.

    It is time we went back to a model of government that is less concerned about calendars and contributions and more about policy. 

    Our politicians are so scared of bad press, losing their jobs, alienating the masses, and keeping their poll numbers high,  that they fail to utilized their special knowledge for our benefit—they pander to us instead—and we love it.

    We citizens quickly punish those who do not agree with us, speak the politically incorrect truth.  Oh, we demand truth, but only if that truth that is agreeable to us. 

    We quickly believe the myths, state facts without evidence, accept all information as if it comes from equal sources and then we, the uninformed vote for the uninspired to make decisions for us.  But ultimately they can’t keep us happy because we change our minds and attitudes quickly.  Pollsters know this and it is what keeps them in business.

    Government is out of whack for a number of reasons, not all of them have to do with corrupt politicians and money.  it is time the people started taking some responsibilty for the mess we are in and stop blaming everybody else.  Lobbyists didn’t cause our mess, we did.

    Politicians know this, but they will never state it publicly.  They pander to our prejudices simply to get reelected. 

    Don’t blame them, we are all trained to please our bosses—it is just more difficult when the bosses number in the thousands.

    The entire system needs an overhaul.  Trying to fix it by looking at Ron’s calendar is a joke.  It is simply another intrusive invasion of a politicianby a mistrustful public.  The cost of the bureaucracy involved to “regulate” the reporting of calendars, the enforcement and subsequent remedies isn’t worth the resources.

    Someday a politician will be caught with two calendars, imagine the distraction of the Mercury News. 

    They could have their entire editorial board investigating for weeks, not to mention Council inquiries, the ethics committee, the District Attorney, the City Attorney and possibly a public hearing or two to discuss new laws and more penalties for having two calendars. 

    Kids are dying in Iraq, we have a Federal deficit of $422 Billion and debt of $7 trillion, Medicare is going broke, our government lies to us constantly—nobody seems to care, the state is bankrupt, the County can’t provide basic health care to indigent people, the City will be cutting services, the school system is broke and people are embezzling student monies—but we have to see Ron’s Calendar?

    Is there not enough news to print?  Must we invent new issues to satisfy our “right to know” when we obviously don’t collectively care enough to vote? 

    It’s time a government of the people, by the people and for the people took some responsibilty for their own actions.  Blaming those in the arena is always the easy way out.

  20. “A 25% turnout in a special is 10% above the norm.  The District should have 60,000 eligible voters, 29,000 bothered to register and 7312 of those voted.”

    If we accept these numbers as correct I would suspect that the District 7 numbers are not too far off from many other communities: about half of those eligible register. This may even be better than many communities. 
    When you consider that this is an off-year special election a 25% turnout begins to look pretty respectable under the circumstances.

  21. Rich –  You should give credit to Sen. Dirksen for the “real money” quote (although his comment dealt with even larger amounts of $$.)

  22. Mal Content—

    Relative democracy—what a concept?  Iraq had a higher voter turnout than District 7 and they didn’t even know for whom they were voting.

    Adam,

    You are correct, I just thought it was such a notable quote no one would assume it was original to myself.

    Dirksen used billions.  Under Bush we should revise it to trillions.

  23. Gonzo calls for an “independent” investigation of his closed door dealings with NorCal.

    Since when is the civil grand jury not independent?

    What he wants is a whitewash investigation by a group he appoints or controls.

    He’s gonna hafta find a real job soon.

    John Michael O’Connor