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March 15-22, 2006

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Mardi Wormhoudt

The Queen Has Left the Building: 'It's always hard to leave the party,' says Wormhoudt, 'but it's important to leave when you're still having a good time.'

Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Supe's Up

News that District 3 County Supe Mardi Wormhoudt isn't running for re-election hit Santa Cruz like a thunderbolt —and doubtless explained the thunderstorm and snowflakes that followed Wormhoudt's decision not to file by the county's March 10 deadline.

Rumor has it that Wormhoudt's decision left Seagate attorney Eric Pesik—the only candidate to file by the "5pm on March 10" deadline—thinking he was already the next supe. Pesik however was promptly disabused of that illusion when election officials announced that the filing deadline had now been extended to March 15. The fact that Pesik, who sits on the city's Transportation Commission and teaches corporate law at the Monterey College of Law, was the only original challenger speaks volumes about Wormhoudt's power. It also raises questions as to who'll be able to walk a mile in her shoes, which typically featured 3-inch heels, even when walking the precincts.

"No one will have as good accessories; shoes and jewelry will be lacking," Wormhoudt told Nüz. "It's always hard to leave the party, but it's important to leave when you're still having a good time. I had the growing feeling I have other opportunities to explore. I like the sound of 'jazz singer.'"

Wormhoudt's departure triggered another kind of whiteout, as politicos scrambled to get paperwork together over the weekend. By Monday morning, Bookshop Santa Cruz owner and former Mayor Neal Coonerty had endorsements from county treasurer and former Assemblymember Fred Keeley, Mayor Cynthia Mathews, photographer Frans Lanting, environmental activist Dan Haifley, Pacific Cookie Company owners Larry and Shelly Pearson, former Democratic chair Les Gardner, former school board trustee Matt Farrell and reproductive rights activist Carol Fuller. Also out of the gate were former leftist Santa Cruz Mayor Chris Krohn, Jonathan Boutelle, a Carpenter's Union activist, who is retired and has lived here for 41 years, and landscape gardener Lynn Robinson.

Strike Out

Efforts to file county supe paperwork by March 15 could be hampered by the one-day strike that county workers authorized last week, but election officials said they would "come to candidates' cars" to help facilitate the process.

The strike also raises the question whether ideological differences over the strike action triggered the Feb. 28 canning of SEIU Local 415 executive director Cliff Tillman, and the ensuing resignation of the top five officers from SEIU's local county chapter, local president Ian McFadden, vice president Cheryl Williams, second VP Stephanie Tapia, treasurer Tim Watkins and chief steward Carol Zapata.

Rumor has it that Paul Johnston of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council (the regional arm of the AFL-CIO) has wanted Tillman's job since the SEIU split from the AFL-CIO in July. Last week, Johnston's wife, Nancy Elliot, who headed the union when it struck for three days in 2002 and recently replaced Jim Heaney as SEIU local 415's president, accused the county of failing to address the fact that SCC workers' rate is near the bottom of eight area counties in terms of wages, health care and retirement.

"Last year our workers took a 4.3 percent pay cut to pay for increased retirement costs," said Elliott, who described the county's offer as "not only disrespectful to the workers, but also to the community. The county ended fiscal year 2004 with a general fund balance of over $22 million."

Asked about Tillman's firing, Elliot said she couldn't comment on personnel matters but insisted that "no illegal actions were taken, no bylaws were broken."

As for the strike action, which she recommended as part of the union's negotiating team, Elliot says, "The decision to strike comes from the rank and file." Asked if six new members were sworn in to the board the night of Tillman's firing, Elliott said, "I'm not aware of those numbers. I don't really know."

But Tillman's lawyer Edison Jenson claims his client has "a significant cause of action" against the union. "The initial vote to run Cliff out of town was illegal. And it's disingenuous to say, 'The subsequent vote to reinstate Cliff passed by a majority, but it needs to pass by a two-thirds majority.'"

Now that Tillman, who worked for the labor movement for 20 years, is out, Jenson argues that "the problem is there's no one in charge now in a leadership position, who understands that the SEIU local 415's own executive committee has violated its own principles. Meanwhile, they're asking the county to bargain in good faith, when they won't do so with their own members." According to Jenson, Tillman has never been notified of why he was "wrongfully terminated. You'd assume, you'd at least get the courtesy of a written notice," said Jenson, who alleges that: his client had no idea of what the Feb. 28 meeting was about; the motion to conduct a close meeting was not properly noticed; members of Tillman's staff who were voting members were told they could not be part of that meeting; six new board members from the Home Care chapter, which represents health-care workers, were quickly elected and sworn in to the board for the purpose of firing Tillman; one of these newly sworn-in board members had not paid dues for several months.

"Why would they do that?" asks Jenson. "If you have the votes, and if there was dissatisfaction, you don't have to manufacture the votes to make that happen. If the full membership had any idea of what's going on, they'd be appalled, and for the union leadership, this is a PR nightmare at a time when they should be consolidating and unifying membership."

Claiming that he's "not going to play the race card" but asking "just how many African Americans are there in the union?" Jenson warns, "Things are gonna get a lot nastier if we don't come to a resolution."


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