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March 22-28, 2006

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The Fly

The Future Of Law Endorsement

As the county assessor's race heats up, incumbent Larry Stone's not pulling any punches. His opponent, county Supe Pete McHugh, however, has scotched ugly rumors that he was pulling out of the race. They began circulating when McHugh no-showed at a recent candidate forum event. But he quashed that loose talk by finally filing his papers and appearing, along with Stone, at the Labor Council to court union endorsements. In a move that will surprise no one, the Deputy Sheriffs' Association endorsed McHugh following a Dec. 2 phone poll of the board by union strongman Jose Salcido. The DSA didn't interview either candidate, but knows McHugh well. The supe appeared at a press conference last year to provide a ringing endorsement for Salcido, who was under fire for perjury allegations that the DA's office declined to prosecute. And McHugh attempted to engineer a rule change that would have allowed Salcido to become sheriff, had a vacancy for that job emerged, without having to take applications or hold hearings. Both McHugh and the DSA are tightly bound to political consultant Vic Ajlouny. Stone, however, credits his opponent's endorsement to plain old enlightened self-interest. "The main thing is that McHugh is a member of the Board of Supervisors, and he's going to vote on [the DSA's] labor contract," Stone tells Fly. "As assessor, I can do nothing for the DSA." Stone notes that "there are many labor contracts that are coming up this June, for which Pete McHugh will be a voting member. He's soliciting contributions from labor unions whose contracts are going to be up, people who have contracts from the county, organizations that receive money or grants from the county." Those horse-trading suggestions don't sit well with McHugh, who swears that his support from law enforcement groups stems solely from his deep understanding law enforcement issues. "I would expect that sort of reaction" from Stone, McHugh fires back. "The deputy sheriffs do not have a contract coming up. I am endorsed not only by the DSA, but by the San Jose Police Officers' Association, and I can assure you I do not authorize salaries or benefits for San Jose police officers."

Viet Gain

Knight Ridder execs may be on their way out, but they sure had fun with the market for ethnic media before they left. Last fall, they replaced Nuevo Mundo with Fronteras de la Noticia—an East Bay paper with scanty local coverage and stories recycled from outlets in Mexico. Then the sale of Viet Mercury to a local entrepreneur fell through. But now former Viet Mercury publisher De Tran plans to launch an as-yet-unnamed Vietnamese weekly in April. "I'd like to think of it as an extension of the Viet Mercury," he told Fly. Tran says the general interest publication will aim for the same style of news reporting, only with more features and columns. Although his fledgling paper will start with a total of four staff members, and will be competing with at least four Vietnamese dailies and a handful of small weeklies in the area, Tran remains optimistic. "I have the formula," he says with a nervous laugh.

Odor Leaders

Mayoral hopefuls here could learn a thing or two from San Francisco about dealing with Norcal. The garbage giant's subsidiaries Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal Recycling, who serve most of S.F., asked for a sizeable pay increase in January that would raise resident rates by 26 percent in one year and 36 percent over the five-year agreement. But instead of conceding to corporate bosses in a backroom deal that would drain resident pockets, San Francisco officials did some homework. They discovered that the garbage company's request only justified an 11 percent rate increase. Douglas Legg, a representative from San Francisco's Public Works Department, said the documents they were given had inflated the company's projected costs for staffing, pension plans and insurance premiums. They're now in the middle of negotiations over garbage rates that are (hold on to your seat) open to the public. Residents are free to attend hearings, speak out and ask questions of garbage company representatives, and, for the first time, are represented by a "rate payer advocate." The city hired consultant Linda Eggerth for $49,000 to represent the public at the hearings and break down complicated trashspeak. San Jose leaders did neither homework nor outreach when they offered to extend the local Norcal contract (which expires in 2007) in December last year. Maybe the bad publicity surrounding the Gonzales scandal and censure left a bad taste in their mouths: Norcal representatives rejected the offer for "financial reasons." The city's single-family garbage collection and recycling service contract went up for bid earlier this month, and the winner will be selected in the summer of 2008.

Sinunu Flip-Flop?

Did frontrunner DA candidate Karyn Sinunu flip-flop during last week's district attorney debate at City Hall? That's what it sounded like to Fly, who was, naturally, buzzing around the council chambers during Thursday night's debate. The debate, featuring candidates Sinunu, Mark Buller, Judge Dolores Carr and James Shore, was underwhelming, but Sinunu's response to a question about civil service protections in Santa Clara County deserves a second look. When asked if civil service protections, which make it more difficult to discipline government employees, were still needed in Santa Clara County, Sinunu said they were necessary to make this a "place where people will want to stay and make a career." (All four candidates agreed on the need for civil service protections in the county.) However, only two months ago, Sinunu seemed to put forth a very different perspective on civil service protections in the Merc. The article discussed George Kennedy's reluctance to terminate problem prosecutors—"a fact Sinunu attributes to civil-service protections and her boss's willingness to give wayward prosecutors a second chance," the newspaper reported. But Sinunu tells Fly the issue here is not spin, but context. "We have fired people under the civil service rules; it is a very difficult process and very protective [of employees], and you have to weigh those two sides, and it was difficult to do that in a two-minute answer at the debate. They [the Merc] asked me in a very limited way why certain individuals were not fired."

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