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Silicon Valley News Notes

Dark Sunshine

Some Los Gatos citizens are saying government sunlight can have a dark side — when it comes to the release of personal information. A group of residents asked the Santa Clara County district attorney to investigate the town government for illegally making public confidential information about residents who signed onto an petition supporting a ballot measure to build a controversial skatepark in town. Members of the Los Gatos Skate Park Committee said they carried those signatures to the clerk in a "steel box" and that she later verified the signatures, qualifying the measure for the November ballot. But when a vocal opponent of the measure asked the clerk's office for those signed initiatives, she handed them right over. Soon after, residents whose names were on that petition started receiving "intimidating" phone calls from opponents, said Steven Leonardis, a member of the committee. "It's like if we went to the polls and voted and someone disclosed your ballot to the public and then went back to intimated you because of the way you voted," Leonardis said. Yes, it is a misdemeanor to make signed ballot initiatives public, but according to town attorney Orry Korb there was no hidden agenda. "It was a mistake, but a reasonable mistake," Korb said. "We are under a great deal of pressure from a number of sources to not only be responsive to the request of public records, but to do so in a manner that is considered good customer service." (Which generally means not stalling information releases while a municipal employee checks with an attorney.) Unsurprisingly, skatepark proponents view the town's motives conspiratorially, saying it's clear to them that the council doesn't want to fund a skate park. Certainly a clerk administrator should know better, especially since they have annual public records training. However, Korb says Los Gatos has not received an elections petition like this one in more than a decade. "I will say there are people in same breath that excoriate the town for being secretive and for not being responsive to their request for information, yet turn around and accuse the clerk administrator of committing the awful crime of (turning over election records)," Korb said. Whoa there, sarcastic town attorney guy! Is it actually ironic to oppose both government secrecy and mishandling of private data?

No Re-Pete

It's not just a rumor that Councilman Pete Constant's chief of staff, Jim Cogan, is eyeing a seat on the San Jose City Council. Cogan, who lives in District 9, says he will make his decision sometime within the next year. But even if he runs and is elected, we're not talking Pete and Re-Pete here. Cogan, a self-described conservative Democrat, doesn't always share the same political ideologies as his Republican boss, the guy who puts the "1" in "10-1 vote." That's especially true when it comes to social issues, Cogan says. Still, Constant has made it clear that he wants Cogan up there on the dais with him. "Pete and I get along," said Cogan, 31. "We don't always see eye-to-eye on everything, but he knows that if I ran for office and was sitting on the City Council we would be able to work together." For instance, Cogan says Constant would have his support on frugal spending plans and controversial community issues, such as the naming of the Vietnamese Business District. In that vote, Constant favored the popular Little Saigon name. "I'd be right there with him on a lot of items where Councilmember Constant felt he was standing up for community," Cogan said. It's not a well-kept secret that Constant's chief of staff is known to work with Democratic organizations and has a history of working on Democratic campaigns. "Frankly, I think the Republicans have seen see there is a real value in hiring Democrats," Cogan said. "Look at the governor."

Taser Grand Jury?

Could the next step in the local taser controversy be a grand jury investigation? That's what the daughter of Steve Salinas, who died May 25 after be tased by San Jose police, says she will ask District Attorney Dolores Carr to pursue. Noreen Salinas isn't happy with Assistant District Attorney David Tomkins' finding that there was no criminal liability on the part of the officers involved in the altercation with her father, a motorcycle club member who was naked and unarmed during his struggle with police outside a San Jose motel room. "I am infuriated. Someone needs to be held accountable for my father's death," says Salinas. "Even the coroner's report left questions that should be put in front of a jury." The autopsy report said that the taser could have contributed to Salinas' death, but ultimately found the cause of death to be "undetermined." In officer-involved deaths in which there was a knowing use of deadly force, the district attorney's office can send a case to the grand jury to determine the merits of a prosecution, and has done so in such high-profile cases as the shooting deaths of Cau Bich Tran and Rudy Cardenas. Retired public defender Aram James, an anti-taser crusader who sat in on the meeting in which Tomkins revealed his findings to Noreen Salinas, says that if public demand is the criteria, the Salinas case qualifies. "Given the international attention on tasers, and the obvious questions surrounding the death of an unarmed man, there is certainly the same, if not more, justification for an open grand jury in this case," says James.

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