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Relative Anxiety

Some East Side teachers had their apples in a bob last week with the news that JOHN FOX was named principal of the Central County Occupational Center, where some 1,500 teenagers are trained as auto mechanics, refrigerator repairmen, office assistants and beauticians. Fox has good credentials—he's an assistant director at the same type of institution in Indianapolis, where he's worked for six years. His problem, according to the teachers, is that he's married to ESPERANZA ZENDEJAS, the superintendent of East Side Union High School District, which sends hundreds of students to the CCOC. Fox and Zendejas have been doing the long distance thing since she was named East Side's superintendent in August 2003. He was one of more than 20 applicants for the CCOC job, which reports to the Metropolitan Education District superintendent, TIM HALLETT, not to Zendejas. Even so, Metropolitan board member ERNIE DOSSA said Fox's hiring was "touchy." "We left it to the lawyers," he says. "They investigated and said there was no conflict. I had concerns with it too but he was very, very qualified." Fox, who is still employed in Indiana, was unavailable for comment. But Zendejas said she heard from at least one teacher concerned about the appearance of conflict. Zendejas told the teacher Fox doesn't report to her. She doesn't set his salary, benefits or days off. "The only aspect we share [with the CCOC is] our students," Zendejas says. "They deal with them independently of us." East Side Union board member CRAIG MANN also serves on the Metro Ed board. He says he abstained from voting on the CCOC position in closed session and was not on the hiring committee. Even so, you can't blame teachers for being sensitive to conflict of interest. East Side Union has its fair share of nepotism: board president MANUEL HERRERA's brother JOEL is a James Lick High School administrator and his cousin ROGELIO RUIZ is the board's general counsel. Board member PATRICIA MARTINEZ-ROACH's sister AURORA QUEVEDO is an East Side administrator. All three are said to be qualified in their fields and board members have abstained from voting when relatives are involved.

How Strong Is Your Mayor?

How pissed is the NAACP that S.J. city officials didn't fund five social programs benefiting the African American community this budget cycle? Pissed enough to ask for a radical change in the city's government—namely to move away from the council-manager system in operation since 1916. The NAACP is calling for an "administrative mayor" or "strong mayor" form of government, which would give S.J.'s mayor unprecedented powers—to veto, to hire and fire department heads and to establish a budget without input from the council. The NAACP's RICK CALLENDER argues that under S.J.'s current council-manager system, Mayor RON GONZALES and the other councilmembers consistently and easily shift blame to City Manager DEL BORGSDORF, who never has to face election. Oakland and San Diego are two recent cities that adopted strong-mayor forms of government. Besides the unfunded black programs, Callender is also concerned about the lack of black managers in Borgsdorf's inner circle. "They haven't hired an African American senior administrator since REGINA WILLIAMS left," says Callender of the former city manager who left in early 1999. The problem with the NAACP's call for new governance is that no one seems to be taking it seriously. FORREST WILLIAMS, the city's only black councilmember, says he's more interested in discovering why no black programs, including $40,000 for the NAACP's Youth Leadership Academy and $200,000 for a business academy run by the Black Chamber of Commerce, were funded. Councilmember CHUCK REED points out that while the city didn't fund the five programs through the $4.2 million Healthy Neighborhood Venture Fund, other predominantly black services were funded through other accounts, such as the African American Community Center on Julian Avenue. "Our senior nutrition programs are open to anyone who wants to eat," Reed observes. SJSU political scientist TERRY CHRISTENSEN says allegations of budgetary slights are typically associated with strong-mayor forms of government, where the whims and prejudices of the city's CEO are readily apparent, not with supposedly more objective and professional council-manager systems. Even so, Christensen foresees a day when S.J. residents will be more accepting of a strong-mayor government. "It's an idea whose time has not yet come," he says.

When We Grow Up

At the Planning Commission last week, commissioners were all smiles about the 332-acre development Hitachi is planning to rework on land it obtained from IBM several years ago. Designs are still preliminary, but renderings show a nice, walkable community shaded by trees in what has been described as an urban transit village. Only one South S.J. resident attended in opposition, LORI ADAM, and she was mostly interested in the height Hitachi will be allowed to go once it receives the final green light from the city, which could be several years away. Hitachi officials were quick to point out that their request to build as high as 120 feet, which is about 12 stories tall, is the same height they're currently allowed to build right now, without a waiver or additional permits. They merely asked for the same ability so they'd have "flexibility" to build to the height if they choose. So the question becomes, What happens if they want to build that tall? One answer might be an erosion of the significance of downtown San Jose even as it breaks ground this year on three condominium high rises, which city leaders are hoping will continue a downtown renaissance dating to the early 1980s. Undermining the progress of downtown is nothing new of course, but SCOTT KNIES of the San Jose Downtown Association says he isn't worried about the possibility of other developments usurping some of downtown's magnetism because they'll never be able to emulate its urban amenities. Still, he says he gets curious when city officials sign off on projects permitting high-rise development outside the inner core, especially if the high rises are residential projects, not office space. "It's important for us to finish what we've started," he says, referring to downtown's complete build-out. "We need to take the long view. What do we want to be when we grow up?" To which we can only respond: please God, not L.A.

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From the June 15-21, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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