Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again

With a clear mandate from the voters and armed with his popular reform agenda, Mayor Reed dragged the old-guard San Jose City Council Members by their hair to a unanimous vote authorizing the taking of the first baby steps toward ending the excesses of the Gonzales era. That’s more than a full measure of ifs, ands and buts, I know, but could this really be the beginning of the beginning of the end of the eight year free-for-all? Is our council going to go back through the looking glass without some kicking, screaming or scheming? If these reforms are going to work, every single member of the council has to voluntarily follow them to the letter. Excuse me if I think this may be a bit overoptimistic.

The lobbying “industry,” for that is truly what it is, wouldn’t exist without the easy availability of substantial amounts of money for the asking. But, like Enron, why do we need another level of bottom-feeding middlemen? The City Hall staff ought to be able to identify problems and situations requiring action and work with appropriate private concerns without being goosed by highly-paid conmen for wealthy individuals and organizations fishing for favoritism. In seeking agreement to stop the payment of fees to lobbyists who successfully conclude the business of their clients, Reed is attempting to cut off the head of the dragon. But what’s to stop lobbyists from continuing to ply their trade on a different basis, especially if they find willing ears in City Hall?

Increasing the restriction that bars former city employees from lobbying City Hall from one year to two is a definite improvement, but will it stop former backroom dealmakers from providing advice to others doing the lobbying? Why not ban former employees, mayors and council members from ever participating in any form of paid lobbying or private consulting at City Hall? That would leave Ron Gonzales and his ilk shivering in their boots.

But what really worries me most is the attitude assumed by several council members who seem to be climbing aboard this anti-gravy train with a wink and a nod. For instance, the Mercury News reports that Council Members Campos, Williams, Chirco, Pyle and Nguyen “expressed concerns that regulating success fees would be too cumbersome.” And Forrest Williams wanted to “ensure that the changes wouldn’t restrict whom council members could meet with or create paperwork for them.” Bureaucrats worried about a process being too cumbersome or creating too much paperwork? What planet do these five council members live on? These are Democrats? They sound like a pack of Abramoff-fuelled Tom Delay Republicans.

Do you see what I mean? This is the root of my skepticism. You can’t reform sinners who don’t want to stop sinning. Unless every current council member embraces these Reed reforms honestly and wholeheartedly, they are just playing the business-as-usual game and will continue wasting our time and money. The voting citizens of this city had a chance to elect Cindy Chavez and endorse the Gonzales-era status quo. They overwhelmingly rejected that path when they handed the big job to Chuck Reed. The council members in denial over this better wake up and hop back on this side of the mirror before they end up permanently backwards or, worse yet, making license plates with Duke Cunningham.


  1. Jack:
    your surprise that Democrats are corrupt is a bit of a howler, but we’ll let it pass. One could certainly argue that it’s the fact that Santa Clara County is essentially a one-party state that creates the environment for the sort of shameful dealings we’ve seen from the Demos and their minions over the past decade. Competition keeps everybody on their toes.

  2. Jack,
    I also don’t want past council members to become lobbiest.  However under your plan, how can we exclude past city polititions from lobbying, yet utilize all the knowlege and expertice they gained, while we payed them for “on the job training”.  Few past council members have small enough egos to come back, like Judy Stabile did, and volunteer as a commissioner to serve their city?  Perhaps Tom McE has some ideas on how we can best get a “return on our investment” from past mayors and council members.

  3. Wake up Jack! You banishment would catch some very protected nonlobbyist lobbists, including Pat Dando, Jude Barry, Frank Fiscalini,  Shirly Lewis and even Tom McE if carried to the logical end. It’s ok to cast a wide net, but just make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules. We don’t need one set of backroom wheeler-dealers swapped for another just because they backed the right horse. BTW #2, Stabile worked as a business lobbyist for years at the DT Association.

  4. “Bureaucrats worried about a process being too cumbersome or creating too much paperwork? What planet do these five council members live on? These are Democrats?”

    Darth Vader just turned to the Emperor and said “the Koolaid is strong with this one”.

  5. Jack,

    Did anyone really think that the “Gang of Four” (and I exclude Councilperson Nguyen for the present only because she is new to the council and hasn’t been on the job long enough to set a track record by which she can be measured) is going to change their ways over night.  How many years have they had enjoying the positions they’ve taken.  Just look at their records and their actions—they speak louder than words. 

    I hope people don’t forget all the underhanded actions initiated by these members during the elections to besmirch the reputation of those running in order to take away votes from the candidates.  Remember—a Leopard doesn’t change it’s spots it may only hide them temporarily.

    Concerned Citizen

  6. Well, Jack. It seems you have hit the real problem. Sinners do not reform unless they want to.

    The sollution? Independant review of their (the sinners) actions to be sure they follow the rules. Followed up with tough, strict penalties for breaking the rules. The penalties need to be greater than the bebefit.

    For example. A lobbiest gets a success fee, against the rules. The penalty? Fine the lobbiest twice the ammount of the fees earned (or paid). Fine the lobbiests employer twice the profit made from the project. This would stop the practice.

  7. Jack,

    Agree with ” Unless every current council member embraces these Reed reforms honestly and wholeheartedly, they are just playing the business-as-usual game and will continue wasting our time and money.” 

    Looks like Council business-as-usual when former staffers now lobbyists Gary and Eric Schoennauer alledgely wrote Pete Constant Council memo for Duckett Way density exception so Barry Swenson could add 5 more homes to 14 allowed which requires 100 ft riparian setback reduction to 50 ft and removal dozens large trees for more Swensen profits

    Pete Constant then goes to formal dinner honoring Swensen 2 weeks later

  8. Guys, read the march 3-9 edition of “Economist” magazine.  It reports that downtown SJ is a total failure to the dismay of Mayor Chuck Reed.  The city tried to revitalize its downtown, but it failed due to the strength of its metro area.  Nice try!  It’s like LA without the beach and glamor, an ugly step city(San Jose) to the north.  The same goes for Las Vegas, the magazine mentioned.

  9. Dear Mystery guy – whew, you are quite a San Jose hater. If you calmly look the life that has returned to the Downtown over the last 25 yrs., it is truly a Lazarus job.  There is a lot of room for improvement, but given some of the slum lords, absentee owners, and club-renting quick buck artists, the progress is remarkable.  We don’t need to look to LA or SF; we are who we are, and judging from the CEOs, VCs, stars and potentates who beat a path to the center of Silicon Valley, we must have done a few things right: open your eyes.  TMcE

  10. Am I going to be the only one who mentions what council members get paid?

    I think the amount is a little low—especially given where we live. I know, of course, that Public Service is about service, and not making money.

    But it seems like there should be some possible way for even elected municipals to be incentivized to act in our interest, and at least make as much money as a junior Software Engineer. This is the land of stock options (and options fraud, of course)—surely we can come up with something.

  11. Jack,

    Why are you not surprised that money, schmooze and influence continues to rains on Chuck’s parade.  Rome was not built in a day and large ships do not change course on spot.  This cancer had eight years to develop and metastasize.  It can not be contained and eradicated by a simple “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

    These cancer cells have invested heavily, purchased options on land, developed business plans and invested in campaigns on winks and nods before the election.  No, these are not cancer cells that can easily be driven into remission or distroyed.

    Like precision laser beams on a tumor,  the light of day is the most effective tool in the Mayor’s and this city’s arsenal of effective options. 

    If there were some way to shadow, expose and allow the “light of day” to shine on those still connected to and doing business with moneyed lobbyists, and publishing such for all the voters to see and understand, the tide of influence might change and for the good.

    Money and influence can play a constructive role in the growth of San Jose.  As Chuck Reed, the voters and others have said loudly;  it has to be done in the light of day and in harmony with the vision of the voters.

    Right on, Jack.  Keep that light shining bright.

  12. Jack,
    You are some excellent points. Labor, and developers heavily support the five Council Members you mentioned. 2 of these Council Members will be termed out next year, and will be running for Board of Supervisor, or State Assembly. Cutting their ties to big bucks isn’t a smart move for them right now, so I’m sure that passing the “Reed Reforms” won’t help them get the money they need to fund their campaigns.
    I don’t know if you’ve noticed how angry staff members are getting when they’re being challenged on their recommendations to Council. They seem insulted that they are being questioned, and are defiant about being forced to follow the Brown Act. During Wednesday’s Rules Committee, I was astonished to see one staffer tell Vice Mayor Cortese that he isn’t a lawyer, after Cortese said the Merc, and public had a right to view anything that crossed the City’s desk. This staffer came unglued as Reed and Cortese argued that the public had a right to know about deals being made with their tax money. This staffer, backed by others, tried to say that the City was making it difficult for business to work in private negotiations on projects with their departments, by making them release info requested by the Merc.
    Chrico came back in defense of the staffers by basically imply that we taxpayers are too dumb to be trusted with certain information. That we needed to be protected from misunderstandings that “may” occur from releasing documents on deals that haven’t been completed! How disrespectful is that! This coming from a woman who voted YES on the Nor Cal deal, without knowing the issue! This came to light during the DA’s investigation of Nor Cal! We need protecting all right, we need protection from politicians like her, who play follow the leader!
    I don’t know Jack. We can hope and pray that these Council Members will “see the light,” but I’m not holding my breath! Accountability in City Hall is sorely lacking, and it will continue to lack until citizens get good dam and angry and stop voting for these politicians on the take.

  13. Tom, it’s not me being the hater at all.  It’s the people from “Economist” magazine shot down downtown SJ revitalization efforts.  I personally thought downtown was well along until I read this magazine.  Just go and the March 3-9 edition of Economist, page 39. After this issue, I felt what does San Jose has to offer since they mentioned that San Jose doesn’t have a downtown just like LA doesn’t have one, but they have Hollywood, glamour and the beach.  Maybe you guys should correct these people from England, which is where the magazine is based.  It seems they have done some research and talked to Mayor Reed about it.  I guess they need some education about SJ..

  14. Jack—How can the laser point be focussed on the success fee itself? How has knowledge that such fees have been extracted been obtained? Are the lobbyists such egomaniacs that they brag about these fees? Anyway, if the fees could be somehow logged, why would the Union Ferrets on the Council get to block their prohibition? Or how could they lie about their knowledge of them? On a related topic, how come the biggest lobby in San Jose, the Unions, do not have to register as a lobbyist? And how about the neighborhood associations? That stupid project, wasting hundreds of thousands of RD funds, and obliterating taxes, on the corner of 3rd and William,  built for no defensible or real purpose, was one that the University Neighborhood Assn. lobbied Cindy Chavez for with promises of campaign help.
    George Green

  15. Bridget in San Jose

    San Jose city government is not trusted by public for good reason but the facts if you listen to the video are different that Bridget presented

    See Video –  Agenda I 3 Public Records request for Lew Wollf memo discussion

    Paul Krupko said he did not have a law degree while Cortese has Juris Doctor in Law degree with certifications in Environmental Law and Mediation.

    Council has in past said ” trust us ”  while doing deals with tax money like Grand Prix where deal was both questionable and last minute disclosed which prevented meaningful public comment resulted in public rightfully not trusting the Council for many hidden deals

    This is different – Disclosing preliminary details of public – private competitive deal when it is not finalized and could easily go to another city puts San Jose in a poor competitive situation

    When deals is finalized as a proposal for Council consideration then public should have number of weeks to review and to comment if in public interest but we are not to that point yet

  16. #14   JmOC

    Don’t kid yourself.  Forrest may come across as slow, confused and a bit dimwitted;  but when it comes to money and how things work, he is no idiot. 

    He did not get where he is by being slow, confused or dimwitted. 

    Push come to shove,  he could probably talk a cat off a fish wagon…  in his own sort of country style.

    Here kitty, kitty, kitty. . . . .

  17. Today’s Mercury News has an editorial about the continued secrecy of Lew Wolff’s stadium plan [1].  The editorial claims that two San Jose councilmembers argued for continued secrecy during rules committee meeting on Wednesday.

    Unfortunately the Mercury News did not cover this meeting so we do not know which councilmembers do not want the report released. 

    Why is the Mercury News so willing to give these two councilmembers a free ride with all the recent focus on open government?  We need names. 


  18. I need to comment on this whole issue of Staff vs. open Government.  If City Staff brings a complete, negotiated contract to the City Council for their consideration, where is there opportunity for the Council, or the public, to add their comments, to make changes, or to make sure their concerns are included in said contract?  It seems to me that if City Staff brings a completed, negotiated contract to the Mayor and Council, then they have to consider that contract, not what they want INCLUDED in that contract.  That is giving City Staff control over public policy, since they are taking the power and control of negotiating with people like Lew Wolfe, rather than letting the Mayor and Council, and the public determine what should be in the contract. It is kind of like the public art program, when it was revised after the elephant turd was placed in Cesar Chavez Park.  As I understand it, it was originally supposed to look like a snake, raised up.  The artist made a change in mid stream for some reason, and we ended up with a poor representation of Quetzacoatal (sp?). Following that, City Council revised it’s public art process to ensure the proposed art project is truely open and public, AT ALL STAGES, so that this mistake would not happen again. 
    And that, I believe, goes directly to Bridget’s point.  As much as I believe the intention of City Staffers is good, they are not publically elected officials – the Mayor and Council are.  The Mayor and Council were elected to set policy and decide what’s best for this City, not City Staff.
      The Public has a right to know the City is negotiating deals with people like Lew Wolfe.  They have a right to know what the City is asking for, and what Mr. Wolfe is asking for.  That is why anything that comes across the City’s desk is public information (certain exceptions as noted by Bridget are a given).  We the public cannot allow power and blind control of any part of our City/Country to go to any individual/group of individuals, well intentioned or not.  It may make for a painfully long, and arduous process, but we live in a Democracy where EVERYONE has an opportunity to have their say, and not after the Contract has been negotiated, and deals have been agreed on.  As the saying goes, “Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.”

  19. #17- “Posted by Inaccurate #15,” Nothing I said was inaccurate. I did not quote anyone, and not having a law degree, and not being a lawyer, means the same thing to me. I’m not so anal that I need to restate my impressions of something I heard/saw to ensure I regurgitate the exact same phrase that was uttered by the speaker.  I’ve been through all of this pettiness with you before. You say to-mah-to, and I say tomato, who cares.
    Obviously you are a City staff member who isn’t happy with my perception of staff behavior. Hence your statement, “but we are not to that point yet.” We meaning you staffers at the City?
    The point is the public is entitled to view any document that comes into, and out of the City, when it comes to issues like this. (Personnel issues, litigation strategies within the City Attorney’s Office, etc., excluded.) Hence the Brown Act. A right of citizens you City staffers ignore frequently.
    Secondly, on the one hand you cite hidden deals with the Grand Prix, and then you contradict yourself saying it’s okay not to disclose deals like Lew Wolfe’s, because the public has several weeks to be involved in decision making. HUH? City staff knew dam well about the Grand Prix deal, and Nor Cal! How else were they negotiated, implemented, and brought before Council if you didn’t? The City does follow a process of bringing things before Council, including, and not limited to, staff recommendations! 
    Wolfe isn’t an idiot; he’s done business with the City before. He knows that everything that crosses anyone’s desk in City Hall, short of a lawsuit, is public record and subject to public viewing.
    Bottom line for me, Paul Krupko and his cronies are staff members, not elected officials. They need to get a grip and realize they work for the public and answer to the Council, whether they like it or not.

  20. Inaccurate #15 ,

    What about the point made in the Merc this week about the last time city staff negotiated a soccer deal:

    “Think of the proposal in 2005 to keep the original Earthquakes soccer team here. Revealed abruptly by city staff, it suggested spending $80 million on a downtown stadium and a subsidy for the team, possibly tapping the city’s general fund. Wouldn’t some preliminary discussion have prevented that embarrassment.”

    Why should we trust staff to negotiate in secret this time?  Did staff really think the last proposal would be approved? Maybe staff was counting on another one day review like the grand prix subsidy.

    Mr. Wolff’s document should be made public now so we have a chance to avoid another staff boondoggle.

  21. Well said #23.

    Jack, you have good reason for concern. I too am concerned about the Council doing things differently. Mayor Reed is a strong advocate for open government, but he can’t do what the people want, unless he gets a majority of the Council to support his efforts.
    I think we voters need to make sure these Council Members get the message by sending them e-mails, or making calls, when they vote to keep deals/records closed to the public, etc. Reed can’t do it alone. He needs our support. And columns like yours Jack help a lot. Keep up the good work.

  22. Les White’s ” priceless” comment in Merc about pubic ” trust us ” on Wolff stadium deals as Merc listed many previous stated policy exceptions to make deal happen is too much for most public even from Les who is well liked and respected

    All senior city manager staff and departments went along with Gonzo’s etc back room deals and lies to public for years.  None of senior staff had integrity to tell us about many problems they knew about and now Council and senior staff will have to “earn our trust” before we trust again and Wollf deal will tell how soon

  23. BRAVO # 25! I agree. Trust is not something the City has earned from any of us. As to keeping Wollf’s deal secret, I say no way.

    I honestly am disappointed in these hidden from the public deals. Any honest, descent business person would have no problem with including the public, we taxpayers in decision making. I’m very concerned that our City Attorney, City Manager, City Council, and City staff, doesn’t get that we taxpayers have a right to know everything that will affect our neighborhoods, schools, property, traffic, and our taxes, etc.!
    Secret deals, hidden MOUs, etc. Frightening when you think about it~

  24. We now have the names of the councilmembers who want to keep the Wolff deal secret:  Chirco and Licardo.  Too bad.  Licardo sounds just like Chavez instead of somebody who truly understands the mandate San Jose residents sent for open government and reform when Chuck Reed was elected to office.

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