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Totally Modular: San Jose Councilwoman Charlotte Powers used extra office money to help pay for state-of-the-art furnishings for her staff.

Public Works

Last year the San Jose City Council voted to allocate an extra $20,000 to each council office for stuff like constituent services and "improvements in public facilities." That extra cash must have come in handy when Councilwoman Charlotte Powers decided it was time to improve her own public facility (a.k.a. her office) earlier this year. The $14,840 remodeling job consisted of replacing the ostensibly decades-old office furniture with state-of-the-art Herman Miller modular furnishings. Lisa Poelle, an aide to Powers, defends the capital expense as a way to improve storage capacity and maximize space in the cramped office. Now, loose piles of paper have found neat homes in new modern-day storage files, Poelle reveals. The result, she explains, is a more efficient, organized office. ... What still doesn't quite make sense is why Powers was allowed to tap $6,000 from the so-called council general budget--money earmarked for expenses with a citywide purpose or communal benefit among council members--to help remodel her office. Poelle explains that installed partitions also benefited Powers' office neighbors, Pat Dando and Trixie Johnson, who will be able to use the new wall. One City Hall cynic delicately observes, "That's bullshit." Erik Schoennauer, chief aide to Dando, elaborates that his boss didn't have much choice about whether the new dividers should go in. In general, Schoennauer tells Eye, Dando opposes using public money for office remodeling. "It's not necessary," Schoennauer argues, noting that his World War II­era desk still works fine. "New carpeting [for example] doesn't improve the services we give to the community." Poelle, however, insists that Dando didn't object to the new partitions being installed. Oh yes, and Poelle stresses that the remodeling job was requested by staff for their own work area. Ms. Charlotte's own private office remains as disorganized and inefficient as before.

At Witt's End

First, a disclaimer: The information to follow is somewhat contradictory and details are sketchy. Keeping that caveat in mind, two well-connected sources independently tell Eye that there are rumblings of discontent on the Board of Supervisors with County Executive Dick Wittenberg. According to those inside sources, Wittenberg privately floated the idea of extending his contract during the county's recent budget talks but was rebuffed by skeptical supes. "It was made clear to him by a couple of supervisors that they didn't appreciate the way he was handling some budget things," an insider spills. Unfortunately, Wittenberg is out of town until next week and couldn't be reached for comment. ... There are reasons to believe, however, that reports of Wittenberg's demise are greatly exaggerated. Just last November (before the newly elected supes took their seats), Wittenberg renegotiated his contract, extending it to 2000; his next performance review isn't due until next December, the county's personnel office reports. Also, many well-placed county sources had heard nothing about the scuttlebutt. That means either the rumor isn't true, or the sources were out of the loop, or county staff keep secrets better than most public servants. ... Yet it's not a stretch to imagine the board being less than enthusiastic about Wittenberg, sometimes criticized as a bottleneck for their initiatives. The book on him reads like a Hollywood screenplay: few surprises and little imagination. Still, he displayed the wits to negotiate a guaranteed contract, so unless he is fired for "malfeasance," the county must pay him his $176,000 salary for the next 2 1/2 years, no matter what.

Taxing Ambitions

He says some influential types have approached him to do it, but for Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone to leave his post to run for the state Board of Equalization next year, an unlikely chain of events must first occur. First, the state's term-limits law is resurrected from judicial limbo. Second, the term-limits law leaves Senate Prez Bill Lockyer without a job. (Lockyer's often touted as a possible attorney general candidate.) Third, Board of Equalization member Johan Klehs then runs for Lockyer's vacant Senate seat. That would leave Klehs' seat on the Board of Equalization up for grabs. ... Stone, a Democrat, says if all those things happen, he'd give the possibility "a strong look," though he's leaning toward running for re-election. He admits the idea of being on a board doesn't exactly thrill him--after all, the former Sunnyvale mayor has previously been chatted up for the Legislature and board of supes. Stone says he prefers to manage: "If I wanted a higher-profile, sexier job, I wouldn't have run for assessor," he chuckles. Klehs, meanwhile, doubts that Lockyer will lose his Senate seat and so he's preparing for re-election. ... Another trial balloon recently floated: Sen. Quentin Kopp for attorney general. The hot-tempered SF Independent has been kissing up to lawyers by taking on state laws that require them to publish legal ads--something that has not endeared him to the newspaper industry. ... Potential successors to embattled Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante: Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), Don Perata (D-Oakland), and Sheila Kuehl (D-Encino).

Bye-Bye Now

Was longtime redevelopment project management chief Bob Ryan forced out? The story quietly emanating from the fortress at 50 W. San Fernando is that when Ryan emerged from his regular one-on-one meeting with Redevelopment Director Frank Taylor last week, he grabbed his coat and left the building. The next day, Ryan cleared out his desk in the wee hours of the morning and sent a brief email to his staff bidding them farewell. Ryan played a central role in a recent METRO story ("Dirty Secrets," June 12) detailing the agency's attempt to bury financial information in an out-of-control multimillion-dollar soil cleanup project. The story, of course, had nothing to do with Ryan's departure. If anything, Ryan's evasiveness and stonewalling should have endeared him to his press-shy boss. Redevelopment spokeswoman Carol Beddo simply reports that Ryan resigned. Attempts to reach Ryan at his listed home phone number were unsuccessful. ... Also departed: Redevelopment Finance Director Mike Eshoff, who is starting a private business selling sheet music on the Web. Richard Rios, another agency veteran, will temporarily assume Eshoff's old post.

Dude, You Reek

Consider it a stroke of P.R. genius: Force a bunch of middle-aged guys to consume mass quantities of garlic french fries and deep-fried garlic calamari. Then, give 'em a breath mint before they kiss a pretty girl who will declare one of the pungent contestants the lucky winner--or, more accurately, the least offensive. So went the first annual "Kiss Off" contest to launch the Gilroy Garlic Festival this year. Among the eight male contestants was former Gilroy mayor and current county supe Don Gage, who popped a breath mint before twice reciting (at perilously close range) the words "Gilroy Garlic Festival" in the face of lovely model Darla Haun. Despite Gage's allure, Haun selected KNBR talk show host Rich Herrera as the contest winner. The next day, Eye hears, alert county staff kept the garlic-saturated Gage at a comfortable distance.

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From the July 24-30, 1997 issue of Metro.

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