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The Fly

Maybe They'll Call it 'Classic Merc'

"Is there no end to the humiliation?" a former Merc employee asked last week in an email to Fly. It seems readers weren't the only ones unhappy with the decision made two months ago to merge the paper's two news sections into one. When Merc executive editor SUSAN GOLDBERG announced two weeks ago that the paper would go back to the old format, employees lambasted management for trying in the first place. "It was their own egos, careerism and blindness that hatched the scheme," one employee wrote. The same employee speculated whether combining the two sections was a result of the paper attempting to free resources so it could publish the Five-Minute Merc—a pilot program, apparently now abandoned, to publish a daily, truncated form of the paper that would be distributed free. "Once that idea was 86ed, there was no press run benefit so combining sections made no sense," the employee wrote. "Had they figured out how to make money with the '5-Minute Jerk,' all you would have heard about was how much readers just loved the combo, despite some poor, nostalgic souls [i.e., the paper's readers] who were unhappy but had better get over it." At least one Merc source was willing to speculate whether former editor JERRY CEPPOS, who was promoted to a VP position at Knight Ridder corporate in 1999, was the fall guy for the Merc's flip-floppy ways. Ceppos announced he would take early retirement the day after Goldberg said the paper was reverting to the old sections. "He was a huge proponent of the new, fast, easy, smart Merc," a former staffer says. "Hmm ... any link there?" Ceppos, for one, says there isn't. "You've got to be kidding me," he said via voicemail. "I had not heard that rumor. It's most certainly untrue. Actually, it's rather hilarious. I find it hard to believe anyone at the Merc would say that." Even so, in the wake of the changes, seemingly small mistakes are now being elevated to colossal failures. A flier mailed last week offering 10 weeks of the paper for $20 guaranteed the price through Sept. 31. Unfortunately there are only 30 days in September. "Yet another indication of the level of incompetence," one observer says.

Gonzo's Blind Side

Pastor SCOTT WAGERS has renewed his on again–off again battle with City Hall over more housing for the poorest of the city's poor. Last week's confrontation was decidedly low-key compared with previous efforts, which have included marching from San Jose to San Francisco and constructing a tent city on City Hall's front lawn. Instead, Wagers and a group of about 40 homeless people took a 45-minute tour of the city's newest high-rise, the Civic Center, which just happens to sit about 100 yards north of Wagers' Fifth Street ministry. "We used to have to march two miles to City Hall," Wagers says, "now we can march across the parking lot." The group first dropped in on the housing office, then headed to the mayor's upper level office for an unannounced visit. "We wanted him to know we are right next door, brother," Wagers says. "If he ignores us, it will stir us up." GONZALES, however, was nowhere to be found. Two days later, a smaller group returned, led by DAVID GUTIERREZ, a homeless father who sleeps at Wagers' church. The group was again given the brush-off. If the mayor finds himself too occupied to participate in a homeless convention Wagers' church is sponsoring Sept. 9, he'll likely find Wagers and company in a foul mood. "We want him to get the message we are serious about this," Wagers says. "He can either meet us halfway or we'll meet him all the way on his side of the fence. That's when it gets tense."

Feel-Good Hit of the Summer

The best quip overheard last week at the COMPAC Barbecue, the Silicon Valley political event of the summer engineered each year to boost the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee, was about the district attorney's race: "When criminal lawyers run against each other, they don't just want to beat their opponent. They want to convict their opponent."

Bragg's Teaching Dilemma

Look for teachers to make a big push to remove three board members of the Cupertino Union School District this November. The reason? They're fed up with Superintendent WILLIAM BRAGG's hefty salary increases and autocratic management style. A district representative says Bragg's raises have been tied to the cost of living increases teachers annually receive. But teachers point out that Bragg was able to convince the board to roll bonuses and perks into his salary last year, making every salary increase "a raise on top of a raise," according to a union source. Bragg's salary has nearly doubled in his nine years with the district, from $120,000 to $210,000. A starting Cupertino teacher salary, meanwhile, is $45,000—barely enough to afford a modest apartment in the valley's hyperinflated economy. Cupertino's 16,000 students, who comprise the largest elementary school district in the county, ranked as the 16th best district in the state last year, according to the Academic Performance Index. That was the highest ranking ever for the district. Even so, Bragg's opponents cut him no slack. They say the district's high performance—and international reputation—has more to do with teachers and parents than Bragg's circle-the-wagons mentality. One sign of his closed-door approach: board meetings are neither video- nor audio-recorded. ("We're not required to by law," a representative says.) "He doesn't give a rat's ass what teachers or secretaries think," says MELISSA HILTON, a Cupertino parent who helped organize a recall of two board members in 2003. "When the district was facing a budget shortfall, he didn't try to eliminate management positions. He laid off janitors and painters and air conditioning repairmen. He added management positions while contracting out worker positions." One sign teachers might succeed in November elections: They've formed a political action committee to help their candidates win. "It's very important that the board listen to administrators, but we're the ones at the forefront, we're the ones dealing with students one-on-one," says KATHY REYNOLDS, a third grade teacher heading the PAC.

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From the August 31-September 6, 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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