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Dave's Bizarre Double-Take

Last month, San Jose's normally genteel City Council became a fractious pit of controversy when councilmembers decided to reform a task force that had overseen the planning of a housing development in the southeast part of the city. On one side was Councilmember DAVE CORTESE, whose district includes the development. On the other was Mayor RON GONZALES and seven other councilmembers, who wanted to replace the task force, which had met for nearly two years, with a group that would take a more holistic view of the development, including adjacent district residents. At the April 19 meeting, Cortese lashed out at other councilmembers, saying they were attempting to derail his '06 mayoral bid even though the only other announced candidate, Councilmember CHUCK REED, initially voted with Cortese to continue with the task force as is. What Cortese failed to say during the meeting was that he had his own reservations about the 33-member group. In memos and emails Cortese sent to the Evergreen Visioning Project, he thanked them for their "excellent work" but also said that the task force should be refocused because it had become apparent to him, as far back as last summer, that the group could not "effectively continue as a collective group" because of its "inability to formulate a detailed negotiating position and process." He went on to say in a Jan. 27 memo that the task force was "mired in debate" and that some members appeared to be "secret representatives of special interests." "More than a few task force members have emailed me privately," Cortese wrote, "asking to be removed from the task force because they feel it has run its course." In a Feb. 24 email to project member JIM ZITO, Cortese said the "process itself has run amuck," leading to a less inclusive environment. What's worse is that the group held meetings without notifying the public, a violation of the state's Brown Act. "In addition to monthly meetings in public venues, the EVP Task Force began to meet in private," Cortese wrote in a March 1 memo on city stationery, "without members of the public, the press or myself being permitted to participate (except by invitation)." For these reasons and others, Reed switched sides and voted to disband the task force and reform another group. One of the things Reed says he became uncomfortable with was Cortese's insistence on several occasions on telling city staff how to proceed with the group, which is a violation of the city charter, which says neither the mayor nor councilmembers can direct subordinates in public or private. "I can't believe he put that in writing," Reed says. Cortese has had problems before with talking out of both sides of his mouth. He played labor against business during the community benefits initiative process and once voted for a car allowance increase, only to publicly turn it down in an effort, it seemed to pundits, not to seem like a spendthrift. "Chameleon Dave," as these pages once dubbed him, didn't return a phone call seeking an explanation.

Milking It In Milpitas

Looks like reports of the demise of Milpitas' ethics panel were a few weeks premature. The three-member group, given 30 days to disband at the April 19 City Council meeting, met one last time to commiserate over how to prepare an annual report city officials didn't seem to want, especially since the panel was collecting $1,600 for its appearance in a city that recently agreed to a 5 percent across-the-board budget cut. "We clearly have no faith in their ability to do the job," said Councilmember ARMANDO GOMEZ, the main force behind the panel's disintegration. "Now they're holding another meeting milking the taxpayers." What did the city get for its money? Mainly a lot of nonsense about how much better the city was—and would have been—with a newfound emphasis on ethics. Panel member BARBARA CONANT held up the ethical guidelines and said with a straight face how "simple" they were for every Milpitas resident to live by. A member of the five-person audience pointed out that nobody accused of being unethical ever admitted to being unethical, prompting panel member SUSAN BRANCH to opine that one respondent did admit to a violation, though she agreed no one used the word "unethical" to describe themselves. There was a short discussion about educating voters to spot candidates' untrue accusations and further conversation about how much "hurt" campaigns have caused Milpitas residents. Somebody mentioned a "reality check," though unfortunately they weren't referring to the Bambi-like innocence of the panel members, who seem to have forgotten something called the First Amendment, which gives candidates the opportunity, if not the right, to be as nasty as they want to be during campaigns, whether in the White House or little ol' Milpitas.

Mercury Falling

The first sign of trouble was the late filing—two weeks later than every other daily newspaper in the country, suggesting some embarrassing news was on the way. Then the Mercury News staff reported one of the worst circulation drops in the publishing industry for the six-month period ending in March. Daily circulation dropped 7.1 percent, according to Editor & Publisher magazine, and Sunday decreased nearly 10 percent. Most of the drop was attributed to a de-emphasis in the paper's "other-paid" category, which includes discounted or free papers to hotel guests, schools and newspaper employees. According to E&P, the Merc slashed its other-paid circulation by an average of 30 percent over the same reporting period as last year. The Merc's VP of circulation, DAVID ROUNDS, claimed to E&P that the next few reporting cycles should show an improvement in the paper's numbers. Rounds did not return phone calls to Metro.

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From the May 25-31, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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