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[whitespace] Joe Simitian Leak Law: Joe Simitian wants to muzzle pols who gab.

Public Eye

The Blabbermouth Bill

Eye can't get enough of pols with the gift of gab--especially when they're willing to spill the beans about what goes on behind closed doors. Sadly, Assemblyman JOE SIMITIAN doesn't see it the same way. The peninsula attorneycrat recently introduced a bill that would amend the Brown Act to put some teeth into the part about blabbing what happened in closed session. Eye couldn't resist hassling Simitian about his proposal to clamp shut the lips of gossipy pols with AB 1945. "You mean to make explicit that which is already implied according to the attorney general that the confidentiality and privilege of an appropriately called and wholly legal closed session ought to be respected? Yes, that would be my bill, 1945." Simitian says the Brown Act is explicit about saying what must be public, but is less clear about what must not be made public. Simitian offered examples about litigation strategy, real estate negotiation and personnel issues to show how loose lips could mean trouble for public agencies. The bill has had a pretty cool reception with the press, Simitian says, which is what he expected. California First Amendment Coalition General Counsel TERRY FRANCKE slammed Simitian's brainchild as unnecessary. "This is not something that's the product of a great deal of thought," Francke informed Eye. "Leaking goes on all the time, at City Hall as well as Congress. It's not an aberration from the way things are done; it is the way things are done." The bill would make spilling the beans a misdemeanor, so a judge applying the harshest penalty could potentially jail violators. Francke says it would be almost impossible to prove someone violated the law and that prosecutors would never file charges. On top of that, he adds, the grand jury accusation is another legal tool that can be used instead of civil charges. "I'm not tied to the misdemeanor penalty, but that is the existing penalty for violation of the Brown Act," replies Simitian, who adds that he's open to the civil grand jury idea. And, he adds, if there's something in closed session that members think they can make public, Simitian says members can already vote to do that under the Brown Act. Asked about what kind of specific examples of closed-session secrets going public he could think of, Simitian said he'd rather not go there. So much for trying to get the guy to violate the law he proposed.

Tim Ryan
Tim Ryan

Making Corrections?

Department of Corrections chief TIM RYAN couldn't have timed his exit any better. With a big outside audit of his department set for release Monday, Ryan's last day on the job is Friday. After that he's on his way east to run the jails in Orange County, Fla. The long-awaited report, originally scheduled for release in December, has been pushed back again and won't be out until April 4. The extension gives Ryan and Sheriff LAURIE SMITH more time to respond to the audit's assessment of their departments, which share responsibility for the jails. "There was additional time needed for the departments involved to respond," Assistant County Executive PETE KUTRAS says. And while Ryan's departure will complicate things, Kutras assures Eye that it won't cripple the process. Smith, meanwhile, says she's "writing frantically." Smith has been a longtime critic of the dual-command structure arrangement, saying it makes her responsible for the jails without having authority over them. And Smith, after looking at four drafts of the document, says the audit didn't take the broad look at the department she'd been hoping for. But although Ryan's official last day was supposed to be this Friday, March 22, it was actually Friday, March 15. Ryan took his last week off as vacation, too.

Speeding Bullet

Readers who enjoyed Metro's cover story on high-speed rail ("Speed Demons," Oct. 4, 2001) will be delighted to hear that the state's plan to build a 200 mph bullet train connecting California's major cities took a step closer to becoming reality last week as state Sen. JIM COSTA (D-Fresno) introduced a bill to fund initial construction on the system. Costa's bill, which needs two-thirds approval, would put a $6 billion bond on the ballot--possibly as early as November. The money would cover half of the cost of building the first phase of the network from San Jose to Los Angeles (lawmakers hope Congress will come up with the other half). "I think it has a good chance of passing," says ex-Supervisor ROD DIRIDON Sr., who now chairs the High-Speed Rail Authority board. Diridon says he thinks it's more likely that the bond would go on the 2004 ballot, if not this year's. The plan, he says, is to build the 400-mile segment from L.A. to the Bay Area, which will be a two-hour trip and is projected to net $400 million to $1 billion a year. The profits then can be used to build the rest of the 700-mile system, extending it to San Diego and Sacramento. A Costa aide tells Eye it's too soon to tell if the bill has the votes it needs. She says Assembly Republican Leader DAVE COX (R-Sacramento) has expressed reservations, but Senate Transportation Committee chair KEVIN MURRAY (D-Culver City) is all for it. Outside of Sacramento, she adds, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, a potential opponent, is also watching very closely. Predictably, the only legislator on record as opposing the bill so far is Sen. TOM McCLINTOCK (R-Thousand Oaks), the ultraconservative vice-chair of the Transportation Committee who is known for his longtime love affair with building freeways. In a January speech to his adoring fans at the California Asphalt and Pavement Association, Eye was amused to find McClintock taking a novel approach to transportation theory by labeling mass transit projects a "misuse of our highway money."

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From the March 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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