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Silicon Valley News Notes

Top-Heavy Dome

Thanks to the fact that San Jose officials were finally forced to release their protective clutch on city payroll data by a California Supreme Court Judge in August, we now know that 27 percent (just over 2,000) of city workers earned over-six-figure incomes in 2006, eating up half of the total payroll pie. That's well over the national average: only 15 percent of U.S. households (with at least two people) pull in over $100,000 per year. But in nosing around the salaries of over 7,500 employees, we found something even more interesting: it was between 2005 and 2006 that San Jose went top heavy, with about 500 more employees earning six-figures than in the year before. Oddly, the city also added about 500 people (costing another $38 million) to the payroll in 2006, but Assistant City Manager Kay Winer says the numbers are just a coincidence. The ranks at City Hall started growing for the first time last year, following a steady downhill trend since the peak economy of 2000. She said hirees are coming in at all income levels, and the significant boost in the six-figure range must be due to routine "cost of living" raises (about 3 percent this year) and up to 5 percent additional performance raises. But some employees making over $100,000, we noticed, showed 15 percent and 20 percent increases, many of them working for the police and fire departments. Winer attributes the jump to overtime. Biggest eye-opener: Nancy Alford, former assistant city clerk, made $109,000 in 2005 and $156,000 in 2006. Kay assured us that as valuable as Ms. Winer was, she actually retired in 2006 and cashed in unused vacation time, but that doesn't stop it from reading like a 42 percent raise on the taxpayers' dime.

The Audit Couple

And now for the next chapter of the Barbara Attard vs. City Council story: auditing the police auditor. San Jose City Councilman Pete Constant was irked to hear that the city's Independent Police Auditor Attard had been auditing officer-involved shootings for the last four years. The council decided that is not her job, and now he wants her to show the work she wasn't supposed to be doing. Constant plans to ask Attard to turn over the audits and explain why the council has never seen them before. "I clearly am troubled if there is work being done that has not been reported to the council, especially if it's outside the authority that has been granted to her," Constant said. "We deserve an answer." They're not likely to get one. Attard says that the audits are confidential and considered part of the private files at her office, and that sharing those reports with the council would be considered "highly unusual." "I think we need to consider whether that's appropriate or not," Attard said. "I can show them the form, but the investigations are confidential and our audits are, too."

Ruff Life

Apparently the county supes are dog people. The board recently rejected a proposal to trap stray cats, pay to have them neutered and then release them back to their natural habitats. It was one way to cap the growing stray cat population, which is now at about 100,000 countywide. Instead, the board opted to stick with the status quo: trap the cats and take them to the animal shelter, where they're either adopted or euthanized. Cat lovers across the county begged the board to neuter and release the cats; it would control the homeless feline frenzy while protecting them from being put to sleep. But county officials say they can't allow thousands of homeless cats to roam the county—it's both irresponsible and a public health threat, said Greg Van Wassenhove, the County Agriculture and Environmental Management director. Many of them linger around county buildings, begging for food or bugging employees. "Some say the cats are becoming a nuisance; challenging employees for food," Van Wassenhove said. "They are aggressive." But it's hard not to take note of the county's clear bias against cats. Earlier this year, the county set aside $10,000 for a pit bull spay and neuter program where people could get their pits "fixed" for free.

Block Bloc

Last Tuesday, San Jose's City Council unanimously voted themselves a new advisory commission that will give the community more say in city decisions. The Neighborhoods Commission will expand the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative model, minus the redevelopment funds, facilitating citywide representation for all grassroots community groups. Ernest Guzman, SNI Chairman, says that what makes the NC unique nationally and distinguishes it from other San Jose advisory commissions is that the council won't select its members. Caucuses will be held by each council district where three representatives will be elected per district. "Our model is the Iowa Caucus, because it's the most democratic process for the largest group of people," says Guzman.  "It's not the councilmen cherry picking representatives."

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