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Public Eye

Pay Later

If you happen to have an unpaid traffic citation in your possession, it might be a good time to stop worrying about it. City auditor Bill Hewitt recently slammed the Santa Clara County Municipal Court because San Jose's ticket citation revenues have declined by more than two-thirds since 1988, while $68 million owed to them by scurrilous citizens goes uncollected. ... While acknowledging that recent legislative changes have funneled a larger portion of traffic-citation revenues to the state and county, Hewitt's report scolded the Municipal Court for not employing a private collection agency to get even a fraction of its due from deadbeat drivers. "The City could realize one-time revenues of $450,000, as well as increase its yearly revenues by $160,000," the report states, a revelation which seems to have caused little more than eye-rolling over in the courthouse. Hewitt blames Muni Court for its flabby accounting, referring to the successful utilization of private collection agencies by other courts. "It's not as if we're reinventing the wheel here," the efficiency guy remarks. Muni Court's assistant chief administrative officer, Mary Montoya, argues that these "are predominantly unadjudicated cases and technically have no amount owed." Until a judge says so, anyway. ... Auditor Hewitt remains unconvinced, pointing out that such technicalities haven't stopped the DMV from jerking licenses and registrations. "These are traffic violations for speeding tickets and running stop signs. The Court is hiding behind the word 'bail.' " Since 1986, the traffic division has been audited on three separate occasions. "We did one in 1991 and then we did another one because not much was being done," says a frustrated Hewitt, adding that the county had implemented only five of his 13 recommendations.


Stone's Throw

When he was running for county assessor two years ago, backers of former Sunnyvale mayor Larry Stone touted his record of accessibility as one of his best attributes. During his terms on the council and as mayor, the would-be tax man was well known for spending long hours talking civic affairs with virtually anyone willing to listen. So it was more than a little ironic when Eye discovered last week how hard it can be to reach Stone these days. ... Seems that the county has a new voice-mail system--and Stone is not part of it. Callers who reach the assessor's office (408/299-4347) are greeted with a message that offers them a choice to talk with anyone except the boss. And since no human ever picks up the system, it is literally impossible to reach Stone by calling the assessor's listed phone number. "I know he does exist, I just saw him," supervisorial aide Karen Lipscomb told Eye when we phoned the supes to report Stone missing. Lipscomb valiantly made about a half dozen calls, checking supes' Rolodexes, before she came up with the public official's unlisted number (408/299-2100). ... "It is kind of funny," Stone joshed when Eye finally caught up with him. "We just got a new voice-mail system and they left me out," he explained, noting that he expects to have the problem fixed sometime soon. Despite his low profile lately, Stone tells Eye that he has been very busy shaking up the folks over at defense contractor Lockheed Martin. "When the merger [between Lockheed and Martin Marietta] took place, the title on the property changed hands," Stone notes, pointing out that such a legalism should allow him to reassess the Lockheed real estate at current market values. Lockheed Martin is sure to contest the matter, Stone admits, "but I think we've got a pretty good case," he says. Stay tuned on this one.


July's Junkets

While the rest of us poor wage earners slog through the hot days of July chained to a desk or imprisoned in a cubbyhole, San Jose's elected public servants will be taking the month off to relax and regroup for the upcoming political season. While there will be a number of short vacations for the councilmembers, most of them will be spending quality time with their families. ... Trixie Johnson travels to her home state of Utah to visit mom and recuperate from the political whipping she received in her bid for state Assembly. Margie Fernandes will try to get in shape for her anticipated mayoral run by hitting the wilderness for an adventure with the American Leadership Forum. She'll join other Silicon Valley power brokers in a five-day Special Forces­type training session, complete with rock-climbing and rappelling. ... District 5 Councilman Manny Diaz has set his time off aside for getting his large frame into even better shape. Diaz told Eye that he can be seen jogging through San Jose's east side when he's not catching up on his reading (mainly Colin Powell's autobiography). ... Frank Fiscalini, Charlotte Powers and David Pandori all say they will take short, local trips during their hiatus, while Alice Woody plans on visiting relatives in Rockford, Ill., and visiting with her two grandchildren, who will be in town from Florida. Lest we give you the idea that all our elected representatives are merely partying and taking junkets, Councilman George Shirakawa Jr. will be convening a homeless-shelter task force in his district and painting his mother's house--hot work for the summer months. And between days of fun and sun at the family's Santa Cruz beach house, Mayor Susan Hammer will attempt to shovel her desk out from under the reams of paperwork that have accumulated.


Mo' Money

Somehow, the perpetually cash-strapped San Jose Unified School District found itself holding $400,000 in unspent general funds at its June 20 board meeting. In a flurry to spend the excess cash by the end of the fiscal year, trustee Matthew Hurley decided to get rid of $175,000 of the funds by giving it to six schools for playground equipment. A good idea, considering that 75 percent of the district's playground equipment needs to be replaced. The problem? Four of the six schools targeted to receive funds were in the districts represented by Hurley and ally Veronica Lewis. At the meeting, parents and SJUSD officials expressed their displeasure at Hurley's proposal, wondering why the southern schools got first dibs on the new playgrounds. In the end, the board voted against spending the money on slides, swings and monkey bars for a few schools and opted to buy desks, chalkboards and chairs for schools throughout the district. And what about replacing the playgrounds? School officials say just vote for the planned bond measure and all will be well.


Cloud Cover

On the political grandstand beat, there was nary a peep when the San Jose City Council recently voted to ban cardroom owners, operators and their spouses from contributing to council campaigns. Between 1990 and 1996, the local gaming industry provided some $27,000 in pocket change to winning councilmembers. Campaign contributions are considered an act of free speech. In advising the council on the matter, legal wonkette Joan Gallo rationalized that since the gambling industry is highly regulated, the city could enforce a prohibition of contributions from cardroom owners and operators, as long as their employees are excluded. ... Well, say observers in the legal field, not exactly. Sure, the gambling industry is heavily regulated, but so are taxi drivers, offered a baffled George Alexander, professor of constitutional law at Santa Clara University. "I can't imagine anyone saying taxicab drivers can't contribute to city government." ... In Alexander's view, not only is the underlying logic behind the policy unclear, but it raises serious constitutional questions. "It's at least under a constitutional cloud," Alexander tells Eye. That's particularly disconcerting, he notes, when the council could have assuaged public concerns about the influence of cardroom money by voluntarily refusing to accept it.


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From the July 11-17, 1996 issue of Metro

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