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Dialing For Dollars

A COUPLE MONTHS ago super-fundraiser Vice President Gore defended his telemarketing from the White House, saying he used a campaign credit card to pay for the phone calls. Here in the South Bay, Eye has uncovered a similar case, in which taxpayer-owned equipment was used to shake the money tree. Records show that during his bid for the state Assembly last year, ex-Supervisor Mike Honda made regular calls from a county cellular phone to his campaign fundraiser, Pallas Hansen. Phone records also suggest, however, that Honda dutifully reimbursed the county for the campaign-related calls, which came to around $65. ... The legal issue in Gore's case revolved around whether the vice president violated a federal law that prohibits fundraising on government property. For Honda, the salient legal standard rests within the county's ethics ordinance--a law Honda voted to enact--which prohibits supes from using county facilities or equipment "for personal gain or advantage." Even though Honda reimbursed the county for the calls, taxpayers still paid for his cell phone's monthly $20-$28 access charges. That alone probably wouldn't constitute a violation of the ethics ordinance, opines Asst. County Counsel Ann Ravel. It's assumed that every public official issued a cell phone must make a few personal calls while doing county business. Honda's press aide Ruben Pulido claims that not all of the calls were strictly campaign-related, though his boss paid back the county to play it safe. While Pulido concedes that Hansen raises cash for politicians, she also works with community organizations like Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH). "Pallas has only one phone number, but she wears many different hats," Pulido explains. "When those conversations turned to a more personal nature, Mike reimbursed the county." Sometimes Honda was simply calling his money-pro to say, "Hi," Pulido informs Eye.


Reach Way Out

Speaking of funny-looking phone calls, auditor Roger Mialocq and his team just released their review of the county's telephone costs in which they found some public employees repeatedly dialing friends and relatives long-distance. Among the cities called (not using 1-800-COLLECT): New York, Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Toronto and Guyana. "[I]t seemed unlikely that the county would have ongoing business in these distant locations," the cagey auditors deduced. A random sample of 300 long-distance calls revealed that 21.6 percent were personal, translating into an estimated $128,000 the county spent for its workers to reach out and touch someone they shouldn't have. The more serious phone abuses were ultimately referred to the office of County Exec Dick Wittenberg for disciplinary action and financial restitution. ... More phone waste discovered by the auditors: excessive "411" directory assistance calls. It seems that county pencil-pushers were letting operators' fingers do the walking for them at 25 cents a pop instead of looking up local numbers in the phone book. Mialocq's obvious recommendation: make plenty of local phone books handy and encourage employees to use them. Estimated annual cost savings: $50,000.


Kamei All Over

Less than three months after losing to Don Gage in her race for county supervisor, Rosemary Kamei is squirting some fresh oil into her political machinery. Last week Eye fielded a call from Kamei's former campaign manager Jorge Flores. The young pol is working the precincts in his native L.A., but said he expects to return to San Jose in the near future--nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Asked if this meant Kamei is planning another run for supervisor, Flores said she's "keeping her options open." But Flores insists he didn't call to talk about campaigns. No, he called to be sure Eye had received a faxed letter (three times, thank you very much) defending her record as a board member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District (see Letters to the Editor). The missive extolls her "zero tolerance" stance on racial and sexual harassment in the district, which has been wracked by internal accusations of discrimination. Kamei's letter is a step toward repairing her image as a board member, which took a beating in her nasty campaign against Gage. During the campaign, Gage accused Kamei of chronic absenteeism, a charge Kamei denied. A quick check of water board attendance records for 1997 shows the number of meetings each board member has attended since Jan.1: Larry Wilson, 62 meetings; Bob Gross, 52; Greg Zlotnic, 44; Sig Sanchez, 38; Tony Estremera, 37; Rosemary Kamei, 24; and bringing up the rear, Joe Judge, with 20 meetings.


Start Your Engines

While most insiders have been focused on next year's mayoral race, let us not forget that term limits are also opening up city council seats. In District 1, for example, local queenmakers have annointed Planning Commissioner Linda LeZotte as the heir apparent to fill the seat being vacated by SJ City Councilwoman Trixie Johnson next year. According to LeZotte, she has the full support of Johnson and endorsements from notable council vets like Mayor Susan Hammer, Vice Mayor Margie Fernandes, Charlotte Powers, Manny Diaz and George Shirakawa Jr. "I've decided that after many years of working behind the scenes, it's my turn and my time," the feisty lawyer from New York proclaims. Terris & Jaye from San Francisco, the consulting firm that guided Hammer to re-election in 1994, has signed on to run her council campaign, LeZotte tells Eye. The other morning the 48-year-old lawyerly candidate was spotted in downtown San Jose at the Capital Club eating breakfast with campaign bankroller Mike Fox Sr. While Fox enjoyed his breakfast, he still wouldn't commit to supporting his dining companion, not this early in the race, anyway. ... While LeZotte is firmly nestled in the Democratic bosom of the Hammer Girls, insiders suspect that won't guarantee her a victory in the relatively conservative district once ruled by Republican Lu Ryden, the McEnery-era council's legendary Madame No. Also considering a bid for the seat are Republican county school board member Anna Kurze, who ran in 1990 against Johnson, and one-time Perotista Gordon Reynolds, currently chief of staff to Supe Pete McHugh.


$peech Therapy

Teachers from the West Valley-Mission Community College District want her out, but Chancellor Rose Tseng isn't quitting just yet. As might be expected, money is at the root of the battle: WVC faculty want bigger paychecks, while administrators are holding the line. When Tseng and her minions offered a 1 percent pay hike, indignant teachers sneered that the offer was "an insult and a slap in the face." Since 1992 each college's top three administrators has pulled a 3 percent yearly salary increase, while Tseng has seen her paycheck go up $12,000. At the same time, teachers say, each college in the district has had to deal with budget cuts. Of course, even in the middle of tense contract negotiations, WVC profs claim this battle isn't about money, but rather a lack of leadership. Some teachers have been sporting fluorescent pink buttons that read "no confidence," a calculated dig at the unpopular chancellor. For her part, Tseng says she plans to work on her communication skills.


Public Eye welcomes tips. Leave messages 24 hours a day by calling 408/298-7818 and then pressing 2, followed by 412, to reach Eye's voice mailbox. Send email messages to eye@sjmetro.com.

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From the June 5-11, 1997 issue of Metro

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