Milpitas Mayor Admits Brown Act Violations, Vows to ‘Go Viral’

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.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Between the Brown Act violations, city manager HR violations, and staff harassment claims – Milpitas will be prime-time viewing this year. Maybe I’ll binge watch city council meeting next November.

  2. Other than the hypocrisy aspect of it why would anyone in his right mind plagiarize an Obama speech.
    Does the Brown act apply to congress as well ?

  3. So this teenage ninja turtle giggles about violating the Brown Act, and next door, Sam who belongs with Richie in the Mickey Mouse Club names a law violator as vice mayor. Gosh it must be the fact SJ and Milpitas share the same water.

  4. After the Jay-Z thing, I didn’t think that the saga of Mayor Tran could get any better, but it just gets funnier and funnier. A documentary on this guy really could go viral, but I doubt the propaganda film he’s apparently pushing will get a warm reception online.

  5. Definition of Millennial – per Urban Dictionary

    Special little snowflake.

    Born between 1982 and 1994 this generation is something special, cause Mom and Dad and their 5th grade teacher Mrs. Winotsky told them so. Plus they have a whole shelf of participation trophies sitting at home so it has to be true.

    They believe themselves to be highly intelligent, the teachers and lecturers constantly gave them “A”‘s in order to keep Mom and Dad from complaining to the Dean. Unfortunately, nobody explained to them the difference between and education and grade inflation so they tend to demonstrate poor spelling and even poorer grammar.

    At work, millennials believe themselves to be overachievers who just aren’t understood by their loser bosses. Even Mom said so when she showed up for the interview. They are the only generation in the universe to understand the concept of work life balance and to actually want to find a fulfilling career. All those Gen X losers just don’t get it what with hoping to keep their jobs and pay the bills but they are just corporate drone so who cares what they think? They should be smart like Millennials and get Mom and Dad to pay for that stuff until they can work out what they want to do with their lives and then get rich doing it.

    Sounds about right.

  6. Luckily, I live in Mountain View. Looks like this kid is going to embarrass and ruin the city during his tenure as Milpitas Mayor. Get him out of there before your city is in ruins.

    • Yeah, and the city is in such great shape after having to settle HR violations by the city manager to the tune of ~$2 million. smh

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