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January 25-31, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

We Gotta Get Outta This Place

With Domeville, San Jose's city government got a new look, and now it's got an unofficial new motto: "Get out while you can." That's right, it's mass exodus time, and playing "Who's next?" has become a popular guessing game. When City Manager Del Borgsdorf left in December, he was widely felt to be taking a fall for the scandals (Cisco, Norcal) that led to the recent Gonzales censure. But this month saw two more defections with Planning Director Stephen Haas and Information Technology Director John Bjurman abandoning their posts. Haas, who had been flying to San Diego on the weekends to see his family for the past four years, finally decided he was tired of the commute. Nobody can argue with his timing. Joe Horwedel, the deputy planning director filling in for Haas until a new mayor takes over next year, told Fly his former boss went to work for a private development company in San Diego. As for Bjurman, the IT Department still hasn't recovered from the Cisco upheaval, when ex-Director Wandzia Grycz resigned in 2004 after an internal report said she had helped orchestrate an unethical technology contract for the new City Hall. A year later in August, Grycz filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city. City Attorney Rick Doyle said Grysc has since changed her complaint several times, admitting that she voluntarily left her job, and now claiming she suffered defamation and invasion of privacy. Doyle denies any wrongdoing on the part of the city in investigating the scandal, and Grysc's attorney did not return Metro's phone calls. Just as this legal battle was starting, San Jose's IT Department hired Bjurman as the new director. He lasted only five months. Deputy City Manager Kay Winer said both sides felt "it was not a good fit" because Bjurman only had experience with smaller companies. "This is a very large and complex organization," she said. Tell us something we don't know. San Jose State University political science professor Terry Christensen said Mayor Gonzales is still a couple of resignations short of a crisis, but insiders say that could be the case in short order. The betting pool has placed odds that Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hensley is also thinking about leaving. She did not return Metro's phone calls by presstime and her assistant said she is out of town for couple of days. Memo to staff: last one out turn out the lights.

More Fake News!

A while back we gave you the dirt on Santa Clara's infamous fake newspaper, The Mission City News. We weren't the only ones that smelled a rat—the Santa Clara County district attorney's office had filed a complaint against the pseudo-publisher, West Valley/Mission College trustee Chris Stampolis, for trying to disguise his slate mailer as a community newspaper and failing to file the right campaign documents identifying his political hit-piece. The Mission City News popped up in 2002 slamming Santa Clara mayoral candidate John McLemore right before the election. McLemore ranted about his loss for years until the district attorney finally took notice. Through it all, Stampolis has defended his "newspaper." In December, he published a rogue issue after a three-year hiatus, just in time to plead to a Superior Court judge on Jan. 10 that his paper shouldn't be labeled a slate mailer. "The court denied him completely," said Deputy District Attorney Julius Finkelstein. Stampolis must now answer the complaint, under penalty of perjury, by Jan. 30. He told us that he still believes the charges against him are untrue, but he is in the process of crafting his formal response. "I'm trying to figure out which sentence goes where," Stampolis said. And it's no wonder—that's exactly what he did when he cut and pasted sentences from different press releases for the two cover stories on his most recent issue (more like a four-page leaflet). Fly did some digging and found the articles about Silicon Valley Power and California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi are taken almost entirely word-for-word from announcements released by those agencies. Stampolis slapped his byline on the front page, leading readers to believe that he actually wrote the words and spoke with the people quoted in the lead stories. "Most publications frequently use press releases as a basis for articles," Stampolis told us. We asked him if he ever took any journalism classes at his alma mater, Santa Clara University. "Sure," he replied. Strange, we thought. He must have missed the part when journalism professors like Michael Robertson (from the University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit school like SCU) explain, "Being a ventriloquist dummy for public relations is never good journalism. It's sloppy and irresponsible."

Pick a Card

Just two weeks ago, Fly wrote about the frustration of local medical marijuana patients waiting for San Jose leaders to make a move on the issue. Well, the nation's 10th largest city still hasn't stepped forward on the issue, but developments at the county level look promising. As of presstime, the Board of Supervisors was preparing to vote to implement a state-mandated medical cannabis identification card program beginning in February. Because the 2004 law S.B. 420 requires all California counties to start issuing the ID cards by March, the BOS is hardly ahead of the game. "The county has been really slow on this," pointed out activist Jim Lohse. Nevertheless, he's pleased with the proposed program, which will set up three locations (in Sunnyvale, Campbell and San Martin) for patients to apply for cards at $60 a year. The Health and Hospital Committee, headed by supervisors Liz Kniss and Blanca Alvarado, reviewed the program with caution, fearing it would be too costly and lack support from many local patients who are already getting cards from San Francisco or Oakland. Kristina Cunningham from Alvarado's office says the committee pared down the funding originally proposed by the Department of Public Health, from nearly $300,000 for one year (which included an expensive software system) to $48,570 for the first six-month-period. The committee will revisit the program's scope in July after they see what kind of demand it attracts from the community.

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