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[whitespace] Money for Nothing

Sunnyvale--For three years the city of Sunnyvale fought in court to keep materials connected to the ouster of ex-Mayor Frances Rowe secret. The results: The city spent an estimated $300,000 to wage a losing battle against the San Jose Mercury News to avoid disclosing public documents and to justify illegal secret meetings.

Last week Superior Court Judge Richard Turrone made a bigger dent in the general fund by ordering the city to pay the Merc $223,569 for the newspapers legal fees in the protracted court case.

As a piece de resistance: Rowe seems to be spending more time haranguing city officials now than ever--even though she's not on the City Council anymore.

Even in defeat, city officials are clinging to the dubious defense that they were merely trying to protect the privacy of City Attorney Valerie Armento.

Armento and City Clerk Carol Butler's private complaints about Rowe led the city council to censure the then-mayor for creating a hostile work environment. (Rowe allegedly once told Butler she didn't know what she was doing, according to a once-confidential memo.)

"I feel like we fought the good fight to protect the privacy rights of a city employee," Mayor Jim Roberts told the Sunnyvale Sun. "I'm disappointed in the judge's ruling, but we don't have any other choice."

Turrone, however, said that privacy rights didn't apply in this case because the matter concerned the conduct and performance of an elected official.

The Merc sued after the Sun (a Metro-owned newspaper) reported that council members were meeting secretly to restrict Rowe from entering City Hall for anything other than official business.

These days, Rowe regularly hand-delivers public records requests to City Hall and often berates officials when they don't cough up the exact information she seeks. She's gone so far to buy full-page ads in the newspaper to hassle recalcitrant public servants.
Will Harper

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