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A Whiff of Scandal in District 7

In February, LINDA NGUYEN's campaign paid for full-page ads in Vietnamese language newspapers Cali Today and Thoi Bao outlining Nguyen's accomplishments and asking District 7 residents to vote for her. The ads were sectioned off by dates as if they were a résumé, and topped with a graduation photo of Nguyen, who attended Santa Clara University law school. There is, of course, nothing wrong with candidates advertising themselves. Nguyen's problem is that she ran the spots before filling out a candidate intention statement, a form 501, which is one of the state-generated documents candidates must complete before accepting or spending money. The form, which Nguyen submitted to the clerk's office March 4, is part of a broad-range strategy to limit big-money donors from buying elections—spending campaign cash year-round, for example, to put a mayor or assemblymember in office. Nguyen's early spending is a ticky-tack foul, which probably won't result in much, if any, fine should the city's Election's Commission become involved. Rumors that a complaint was filed with City Clerk LEE PRICE, the first step toward a hearing by the Commission, could not be confirmed since complaints are filed confidentially. The key consideration will likely be who paid for the ad—Nguyen, which wouldn't be a big deal, or an outside source, which would likely would. In a written campaign statement, Nguyen said she was paying for her campaign herself, but is expected to have help from her parents, who are landowners in District 7. Nguyen tells Fly she has conformed to the "spirit and letter" of the law and would disclose the expenditures in the first mandatory reporting period later this month. She suggested there are more important topics for the media to cover in District 7, which has experienced increased gang activity, including two murders, in recent weeks. Pundits, however, will be watching to see if her ads will cost Nguyen momentum given that City Hall ethics is supposed to be topic No. 1 at the moment.

Post Office

How bad have things gotten in the battle between East Side Union teachers and administrators who have issued pink slips to three-quarters of the district's employees? Teachers are researching whether they can run A POST in the next election cycle in opposition to the three board members up for re-election in November 2006. That's right, a post. As in a long, upright, cylindrical post—like a fence or hitching post, something you might tie a horse to or string some wire around. The theory is that voters who think the five-member board of trustees are dumber than a post for sending layoff notices to 788 probationary and tenured teachers will have an apt alternative. "Whoever says board members are dumber than a post will have to vote for the post," said a teacher standing outside the district's Capitol Avenue headquarters last week, where he submitted paperwork in preparation to defend himself against termination. Corny? You bet. And apparently against California law, which defines candidates in terms of "persons" and "individuals." There's also an oath of office a nonperson would not be able to repeat and forms only a living, breathing human candidate can fill out. The post shenanigan is the latest in the back-and-forth between the two sides, which has included a student walk-out, parent complaints and enough finger-pointing to embarrass a playground full of tattletales. Things have gotten so bad that trustee CRAIG MANN sent a letter to a teacher, posted in the union's newsletter, saying if the "vitriolic dialog" didn't end, he would support having the county or state take over management of the district. If that were to occur, the teacher's collective bargaining agreement would be tossed out and all hell would theoretically break loose. District officials should have seen the acrimony coming. In 1993, the last time the district issued layoff notices, teachers were in such a furor that district officials guaranteed they would exhaust all possibilities before trying mass layoffs again. One of the board members from those days, MANUEL HERRERA, wrote a memo to teachers last month repeating a refrain he'd apparently forgotten. "It goes without saying that lessons have been learned that will forever remain in the consciousness of this board and administration." Until, that is, trustees need to plug a hole in a budget shortfall they themselves created.

City Hall Covers Up

It's no secret that Mayor RON GONZALES holds contempt for the state's Public Records Law. He let it slip out during a late March council meeting, wondering aloud whether the Act, which allows everyone from the media to the average constituent to request documents from the city, actually inhibits city business. Further proof of City Hall's reluctance to be fully transparent were on display last week as CHUCK REED attempted to persuade fellow councilmembers to adopt a few simple rules. For example, he wanted the mayor and councilmembers to designate a person from their offices to be responsible for public records requests and to devise a method to ensure councilmembers and the mayor were properly responding to record requests. Why not? Other departments are now required to adopt similar measures as part of a sweeping City Hall public records reform. Reed says he suggested tightening up the council's policies after watching the Almaden Resident struggle with former Councilmember PAT DANDO over records involving a soccer complex in southwest San Jose—Dando purged many of her records before leaving office in January with no repercussions. But the Rules Committee, consisting of four councilmembers, shot down Reed's recommendations last week. City Clerk LEE PRICE, however, sent a memo to councilmembers saying she expected representatives from each office to participate in public records training in the near future. Sorry, Gonzo, that means your office too.

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From the April 13-19, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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