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Kniss Try: Fostering open competition or helping pals?

Public Eye

Kniss Takes Stock

Palo Alto millionaire and Santa Clara County Supe Liz Kniss is sweet on voting-machine provider wannabe Hewlett-Packard. And that's probably not just because her husband, Rick Kniss, worked as senior VP of HP offshoot Agilent Technologies, either. Nor does her corporate friendship stem from designs on Joe Simitian's Assembly seat, as she insisted to Eye last week that she has none. Eye learned from one alert source that the Knisses owned millions of dollars worth of HP and Agilent stock. According to her March 29, 2002, Statement of Economic Interests, the former Palo Alto mayor and Sun Microsystems PR flak owned more than a million bucks worth of HP stock, as well as a seven-figure chunk of Agilent. Eye's spy says that at the board's Tuesday, Feb. 25, meeting, through an aide Kniss pushed her hometown company to present its case for the $20 million contract, despite the fact that the company wasn't even in the running. She also made a motion to throw out the first Request for Proposal process and start over to give recently state-certified voter-machine vendors HP and others another chance. But it flopped. Only three providers--Sequoia, Election System and Software, and Diebold Election Systems--made it to the finals, because they were the only vendors with state-certified machines at the time the bidding process began. As for HP, "They kind of came in at the very last minute," notes Supervisor Pete Mchugh's voting-policy aide, Mainini Cabute. Kniss was in Washington, D.C. this week and unavailable for a chat. But Kniss' aide, Ernie Tedeschi, tells Eye he asked Kniss about the stock. "I'm not sure of the details of that," he says, "but my understanding is that they sold all the stock when [Rick Kniss] retired." Sadly for her, Kniss failed to stop her colleagues on the Board of Supes from picking Sequoia Voting Systems as the valley's new ATM-esque mechanical voting system. Happily for Kniss, she sold her stock at a good time.

Read No Evil

San Jose's Pete Campbell, a political science buff and monitor of local politics, is annoyed. He's annoyed that reporters don't report his take on the new City Hall and its huge costs. He's annoyed that the City Council won't put his talking points about the project on its agenda. And now he's annoyed that somebody swiped his literature, and a plastic display holder, from the lobby of the current City Hall. Campbell had drawn up some information he believes the public isn't hearing about the project. For instance, the final cost won't be the city's figure of $343 million--in actual debt figures, it's going to cost about $960 million. Campbell wants San Jose taxpayers to ask themselves, "Why are the people of San Jose spending $1 billion on an opulent government complex in a declining economy?" But apparently, that's not a question everyone wants the taxpayers to mull over. Last Wednesday, Feb. 19, at the close of the weekly Rules Committee meeting, Campbell announced to officials, including City Attorney Rick Doyle, that he had some information for the public and that he intended to drop it off beside the model of the new civic center in the lobby. No one made an issue of it, so Campbell went ahead and dropped off his material on Wednesday afternoon. By Friday afternoon, the info was gone. Eye attended the following Rules Committee meeting on Feb. 26 and was delighted to encounter a spontaneous debate between Doyle and Campbell. "How is it that if you're with the administration you can set up shop down there?" Campbell hissed at Doyle. "It's our building," Doyle responded. "It's our message. ... We have decided that the lobby of City Hall is not a public forum!"

State of the Slate

With Palo Alto City Councilmembers' rancorous relations making headlines, a new group purporting to seek a return to "civil discourse" has sprouted up in the town of the tall stick: PAGE, or Palo Altans for Government Effectiveness. But with PAGE toting a board of directors that includes longtime city insiders, some with prominent development or business ties (like real estate developer Jim Baer, architect John Northway and business attorney Larry Klein, among others), the question on everyone's lips is, What's the real agenda here? A return to the bad old days of slate politics? By way of background: Slate politics died out in Palo Alto about 15 years ago after a decades-long run that divided locals into two camps: "residentialists," who opposed turning the tony university town into "another San Jose" (ouch!), and a group ready to schedule lunches with business and development interests. Both camps anointed candidates, funded and staffed campaigns and treated the other side's ranks as lepers. (The slates faded away when the major slugfests over development, including a high-rise hospital downtown, were settled.) But it looks like warring slates of candidates could make a comeback in the next election if PAGE decides to back candidates for local office, as some observers expect. They add that the group's real aim is to create a counterbalance to MPACT, a local environmental group whose endorsed City Hall candidates (including Nancy Lytle, Hillary Freeman and Yoriko Kishimoto) have been winning coveted seats lately. ... Not so, counters one PAGE-pusher. A pro-development game plan is "absolute baloney," sputters PAGE co-founder and former Palo Alto Mayor Klein. "We're not in the slate business; that's an easy label," he scolded. "Palo Altans welcome more information and input from an organization that's perceived as objective. No one's 100 percent, but we're certainly trying hard." (Current elected officials are not allowed to join the group.) One well-placed source, however, tells Eye that the PAGE board "is comprised of folks with a political interest, traditional insiders ... who make a living off city permits, approvals or contracts ... from growth and entitlements." Another veteran council watcher, who attended PAGE's first public meeting on Feb. 20, which drew 100 people, puts it this way: "Most likely they're a wolf in sheep's clothing. Their ads, 'Restoring character to Palo Alto'--it's a phony goal, and there's nothing more uncivil than deceit."

Wanted: Dumb Jury

The preliminary hearing of convicted sexual perv Kenneth Parnell is set to take place this Wednesday, March 5, at the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, but if his attorney has her way, the trial won't be held there--or anywhere in the Bay Area where people read. Parnell, 71, was arrested on Jan. 3 after allegedly offering $500 to the sister of his former caregiver in the hope that she would purchase a young boy for him. She instead went to the police, who recorded conversations between her and Parnell and then made an arrest. Parnell gave jailhouse interviews to both the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle and spoke freely about his attempts to secure a young boy, saying he merely wanted to provide care to "a disadvantaged African American child." His attorney, Deborah Levy, is seeking a change of venue because of her clients' loose tongue. "The jury pool has now read what amounts to an admission," Levy said. The prosecutor in the case, Nancy Davis, said she would argue against a change of venue, but is not concerned either way. "Parnell didn't say anything to the press that he didn't already say to the police," Davis pointed out. "It doesn't matter where we hold the trial." A repeat offender, Parnell faces life in prison under California's three-strikes law. In 1952, Parnell was sentenced to three years in prison for molesting an 8-year-old Bakersfield boy. In 1972, he kidnapped 7-year-old Steven Stayner and held the boy captive for seven years. When Parnell brought home another boy, Timmy White, Stayner managed to escape with the youngster and get to police. Although Stayner said that Parnell sexually abused him, sex-related charges against Parnell were tossed out by an appellate court citing lack of evidence. Steven Stayner, who died in a motorcycle crash in 1989, was the brother of Cary Stayner, who was sentenced to death last year in Santa Clara County Superior Court after being convicted of killing four women in Yosemite National Park.


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From the March 6-12, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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