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Some Friends Are Better Than Others

[whitespace] Big Daddy Mac and Almighty Rod, are a couple of swell pals to have

By Will Harper

'I SN'T IT AMAZING how well all my staff has done since I left office?" former Mayor Tom McEnery reflected with great pride during a recent interview. Seven years out of office, his staffers have indeed done well in their career pursuits. In part, their success is testimony to their talent. And in part they have Tom to thank.

The ex-mayor spawned a generation of "instant administrators," seven aides who magically transformed from political appointees to mid-level city bureaucrats and executives when McEnery stepped down. Some, like ex-McEnery budget adviser Greg Larson, ultimately saw their salaries more than double when they moved over to the city's administrative side. (Larson's wife, then-finance director Deborah Larson, hired Julia Cooper, another McEnery aide.)

According to former San Jose city manager Les White, Mayor McEnery, facing unemployment because of term limits, wasn't shy about asking the city's chief bureaucrat if he could find a job for his aides, though the mayor didn't push the issue. "Tom would suggest it and say, 'Why don't you look at so-and-so,' then he'd back away," recalls White, now vice chancellor at West Valley College. "He'd make suggestions for various people: Some we'd hire, some we wouldn't." White didn't name names. Other elected officials "occasionally" made similar requests, White volunteers, though he assures that those requests were only a handful.

If the McEnery connection has proven a useful tool in combating San Jose's unemployment rate, knowing 20-year supervisor Rod Diridon--the first supervisor victimized by term limits in 1994--certainly helped keep the county bureaucracy bulging.

At least six of his aides bypassed regular county transfer procedures and were "actively placed," according to personnel director Pete Kutras, in nonpolitical administrative posts during a county hiring freeze when Diridon left office. A high-ranking county official says, "I clearly think there was some pressure to hire those folks."

At least two of them, ex-chief of staff Bruce Kosanovic and policy aide Kimberley Faraday, safely landed in newly created positions that didn't exist the previous fiscal year. Faraday now serves as the county's $42,000-a-year economic development officer, in charge of staffing the Diridon-created Florence Sister County Commission and coordinating Flag Day.

At the time, Diridon explained that the county had a tradition of finding jobs for aides of retiring supervisors. But Susanne Wilson, who retired from the board in 1990, says that wasn't her experience; most of her staffers took jobs outside county government.

Since then, with the arrival of county executive Richard Wittenberg, the county has clarified the procedures dealing with board aides looking for other work. Now, aides must go through the same transfer procedures as everyone else, meaning they won't be guaranteed another county job when their boss gets booted out of office by term limits.

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From the January 29-February 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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