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Terry Throws In Towel

To the surprise of no one, District 7 Councilman TERRY GREGORY resigned Tuesday following months of doubt about his job security. At the time of his announcement, Gregory had reached a plea agreement with the DA's office to plead no contest to 11 misdemeanor counts, mostly for failing to report a bunch of small gifts and a $4,000 loan that he received from SUSAN SANDY, whom Gregory once beat to win a seat on the Franklin-McKinley School Board. The Gregory saga was not a case of large-scale enrichment or bought votes, but largely a matter of failing to file the proper paperwork due to ignorance, arrogance, sloppiness, improper staff support or all of the above. The question few can answer is, What was Gregory up to? Was he lazy? Greedy? Stupid? Overzealous? He was definitely one of the unluckiest men to hold local political office. He filed for bankruptcy in 1992, was popped with a DUI last spring and suffered through almost weekly news stories as allegations of petty gift-grabbing surfaced. Gregory didn't field questions at his resignation press conference and didn't return phone calls. The man who prosecuted him, JULIUS FINKELSTEIN, said he couldn't answer questions involving motives. "I don't want to criticize someone's actions or state of mind," the deputy DA said. Gregory's defenders say he's misunderstood and point to the Merc for mistreating him even though the paper endorsed Gregory in a February 2002 editorial. "This was another example of much ado about nothing," says Sandy, who loaned Gregory money shortly after he was elected in November 2002, which she says he promptly repaid. Sandy says other members of the SJ City Council should be running scared—they do the same things Gregory was persecuted for, she says. But Finkelstein says Gregory isn't guilty of accepting gifts. He's guilty of not reporting them. "Let's be precise," Finkelstein says. "Everybody is not receiving gifts and not reporting them."

The Hard Sell

It seemed harmless enough, sending an email to City Hall, but now it looks as though JON WALTON might be hit with as much as a $5,000 fine. His crime? Transmitting information. Walton was a San Jose deputy chief information officer who quit city government in September 2003 to market products for Unisys, a technology services and hardware company based in Blue Bell, Pa. On Feb. 27, he sent an email to deputy chief information officer WENDY WALKER to introduce Walker to the company's new organizational management software called 3D Visible Enterprise. Walton's memo wasn't a hard sell. He merely sent her a video file and said that the city manager and council would probably like the software. But because Walton's departure from the city was less than a year old, he was still susceptible to the city's revolving-door restrictions. In a response to city investigators, Unisys said the material Walton sent to Walker was available to the public through many outlets. But City Attorney RICK DOYLE called Walton's email a "huge issue," and Councilman CHUCK REED said it was something the council will likely have the city's Election's Commission investigate.

VTA Money Meter

MARIA BORJA won a $2.1 million settlement against VTA in September but don't expect her to see the money anytime soon. VTA, an agency not to be confused with frugality, is appealing the case despite the fact there doesn't appear to be much of a basis for appeal. In the meantime, interest is accruing on the judgment to the tune of $416 per day—or $51,000 since Borja, who suffered shoulder injuries when her scooter toppled over inside a bus making a turn at Tully and King roads, won her case in Santa Clara Superior Court. MICHAEL FUTTERMAN, the San Francisco attorney hired to appeal the case for VTA, says it's too premature for him to comment on the case. Borja's attorney, meanwhile, says it's almost impossible for VTA to reduce the amount of the award because only a fraction—$200,000—was awarded in punitive damages. The rest will pay Borja's future medical expenses. Besides, says PAUL CAPUTO, her attorney, "The only way they can win on appeal is if there's an error in law, not an error in fact." VTA chairman JOE PIRZYNSKI did not return phone calls. But San Jose Councilman DAVE CORTESE, the only attorney on the VTA's 11-member board, said he would have preferred to settle the case before it went to court. The problem, Cortese says, is that the VTA's general counsel, SUZANNE GIFFORD, doesn't know when to accept mediation. "There's an attitudinal problem with the VTA attorney. There's a stubbornness in defending some of these claims. She wants to take an adversarial posture to every case. 'Let's fight them. Let's confront them.'" Gifford failed to respond to several voice messages.

Are We Not Dems?

Almost overlooked now that the San Jose City Council is back in session is how uniform the 11 members look. Not all white, not all male, but definitely all Democrat. The one San Jose Republican, District 10's PAT DANDO, was termed out, replaced when NANCY PYLE pulled off an election day stunner over RICHARD DE LA ROSA. Does it matter that the council lost its one and only official representing California's minority party? No, says San Jose State University political professor TERRY CHRISTENSEN, who says CHUCK REED, DAVE CORTESE and LINDA LeZOTTE were more likely to dissent than Dando. "Very few issues came down to Dem vs. Rep on the council, partly because city issues aren't often ideological and partly because Dando wanted to be part of the team," says Christensen of the nonpartisan council. Dando, however, disagrees, saying that though she was similar in outlook and temperament to conservative members like Reed and Mayor Gonzales, she still had a unique viewpoint the council will now lack. "We embrace so many types of diversity—ethnic, sexual and so on—that we should try to make sure we're inclusive when it comes to political diversity," Dando says. It's too soon to tell what kind of diversity Dando's replacement might bring to the council, but there are already whispers Pyle won't likely be a strong leader.

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From the January 19-25, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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