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Dragged In

Those who know City Attorney RICH DOYLE must have groaned reading through the civil grand jury report involving the city's bizarre decision to hand garbage hauler Norcal Waste Systems an extra $11 million even though the city wasn't obligated to pay the money. According to the grand jury report, Doyle, the City Council's smart and personable attorney, appeared to be dragged into the questionable recycling subsidy when the administration asked him in the spring of 2004 to come up with a "creative" way to pay Norcal the money. Mayor RON GONZALES needed imaginative lawyering because the state has a prohibition against cities handing out free money without getting something in return. Doyle, the report says, suggested that Norcal should give the city a token offering, no matter how small, as adequate "consideration" for the $11 million. So in exchange for $11.25 million, the city received a $100,000 recycling study, due this fall, and threw in a few other perks like recycling bins for neighborhood cleanups. Was Doyle wrong to aid Gonzales given that the city attorney works for the entire council, not just the mayor? "I think the question is: how do you view the role of the city attorney?" says Councilmember CHUCK REED, an attorney who opposed the Norcal deal. "Should it be to facilitate [questionable policy practices] or should it be his job to stop them? I don't know where to draw the line between the two." Doyle's critics say he's been too willing to comply with the council's wishes instead of averting disasters like the Norcal deal. His supporters, on the other hand, say Doyle's proactive thinking is better suited to a progressive council. "He's a city attorney who tries to find ways for his employers to do what they want to do legally rather than finding ways to tell them they can't do it," says SJSU political scientist TERRY CHRISTENSEN. "I've seen both kinds of city attorneys and I prefer the former." Even so, Councilman Reed realizes how Doyle's involvement in the Norcal deal might look like a way to circumvent state law. "Sometimes lawyers get too much of a pointy head when the rest of the world says, 'That's bullshit.' It may be legal but it's wrong." Though Doyle doesn't take exception to the grand jury report, he says his advice was in response to Environmental Services Director CARL MOSHER and former Deputy City Manager JIM HOLGERSSON, who handled the $11 million amendment to the Norcal contract. His job, he says, wasn't to judge the merits of the amendment. It was to provide legal guidance. "We had to make sure it satisfied a purely legal test," Doyle says. "The policy issue has to be settled by the city council." Yet Doyle agrees with Reed that there was an underlying ethical issue. "The point is well taken. But the policy issues are for the City Council to decide. If we start debating ethics, that's a different standard."

A Matter of Hubris

In February, he dropped out of the District 7 race after being outed for padding his résumé to make it look like he was more connected to unions than he was. Two weeks ago, RYAN HUBRIS, a commercial real estate developer and former roommate of Mayor RON GONZALES, withdrew his name from consideration from an appointment to the Franklin McKinley School Board, citing unspecified family problems. His withdrawal, a day before the board was supposed to select a replacement for BEVERLY MORENO, caused the district to delay the appointment until the end of August. District officials felt they needed to readvertise the position for someone to compete with BUU THAI, the only candidate remaining. Hubris didn't return a phone call seeking comment. No doubt we'll hear from him next time he announces for public office only to backtrack and un-announce weeks later.

With or Without Her

CINDY CHAVEZ was rumored to be ready to finally announce a run at the mayor's office last Wednesday. But that day came and went without a peep from Chavez. As of presstime, still nothing. And yet, Chavez's mayoral-run storyline continues to rocket happily along without her. And the noncampaigning is already turning nasty: several times in a 15-minute conversation an operative in an opposing camp mentioned the "GONZALES-Chavez administration," a not-so-subtle reminder of the connection between the mayor and vice mayor. "I can't say one without the other any more," the operative beamed. Of course, it has never been difficult to link Gonzales and Chavez. She worked for him when he was a county supervisor and has publicly called him a mentor and friend. What makes things different is the Norcal garbage deal that will likely haunt Gonzales until his term expires in January '07. Chavez was one of two councilmembers who boosted Gonzales by recommending that councilmembers support the extra $11 million to the San Francisco garbage company. (Former Councilwoman PAT DANDO was the other.) Councilman CHUCK REED, one of two candidates already in the mayor's race, openly admits Chavez's ties to the deal will be exploited during the campaign. "I think it will be a big issue," Reed says. "It's a perfect example of bad things that can happen when things are done in secret."

Gonzo Strikes Back

S.J. Mayor RON GONZALES has finally responded to the civil grand jury report—sort of. In a memo to reporters and councilmembers, Gonzales responded to a June 18 Mercury News Q&A, which attempted to put the Norcal garbage deal in perspective for readers. In the memo, Gonzales said he welcomes an independent investigation and portrayed his discussions with Norcal in October 2000 as routine. (The grand jury, of course, painted them as secretive and sinister.) The mayor said he never promised to cover higher labor costs and that the council was aware of his conversation contact with Norcal even though councilmembers never discussed it during council meetings.

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From the July 6-12, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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