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The Fly

Souping Up The Supe

Alum Rock Supe Alfonso Anaya has called it quits—everybody knows that. One question people are asking is: Why? "Because he has a hostile board," says one insider. "Because he's so off base, he's trying to play football on a baseball field," says another. "When the commute sucks [Anaya lives in Salinas], when you're not feeling well and you don't have people going along with you because the board is now 3-2 against you, it might drive you out," speculates a more sensitive insider. But the more interesting question is who's been feeding the Merc's editorial page the goods on Alum Rock. More and more people are whispering: "Damn, Anaya couldn't have written that last editorial better himself," referring to the daily's Oct. 8 offering on the supe's resignation. The opinion piece basically blamed board trustees Kim Mesa and Lalo Morales for the departure of Anaya, who, the editorial said, turned Alum Rock around and under whose watch "test scores have risen." Meanwhile, the naughty trustees are referred to as having "inexperience. "They "didn't try," sniffed the editorial. In fact, "five minutes after Anaya submitted his resignation, Mesa demanded another performance evaluation," chides the Merc. The nerve of Mesa. But had the daily bothered to give Mesa a call, they would have discovered that Anaya didn't submit his resignation letter in closed session. Instead, he waited until open session and then distributed his letters to the trustees. Mesa, without reading the letter, proceeded to the matter at hand in open session—which, for her, was an idea she had been playing with for two months, not five minutes: asking for a performance evaluation. Meanwhile, in 2000, the Merc, instead of describing Mesa as having "inexperience," referred to her as somebody "very knowledgeable about the issues." Further, says Mesa, test scores have declined, not increased, under Anaya's watch. While the overall district scores may have increased, that number is misleading, Mesa says, because it might reflect a drastic improvement for one school. It's better to compare individual scores. When you do, you'll find that, unlike last year, many schools in the district didn't meet their API targets; five schools in the district are on the verge of intervention; and both Alum Rock's "distinguished" schools went down in scores. "They [the test scores] haven't risen," Mesa says. "They are down significantly from last year. And when he came here, Dr. Anaya said he didn't want to make changes the first year; he wanted to build trust. Only in his second year did he start making changes. So those current test scores are a reflection of his second year in his office. I'm not saying it's all his fault." Mesa: 1; Merc: 0.

SJ Turkey-News No More

Each year, a day or two before Thanksgiving, Mercury News employees line up at the rear entrance to their building for the annual ritual of receiving a holiday turkey. On occasion, the paper's publisher himself even took the liberty to hand out the 10-pound birds to employees. Every Merc employee was awarded one, though some vegetarians were nice enough to give theirs to friends. This year, the annual morale boosters, dubbed by some employees as Merc turks, have come to an abrupt halt. In a Sept. 28 memo to staff, Merc Publisher Chip Visci cut the turkey giveaway and several other programs, such as subsidizing employee public-transit costs, saving the San Jose daily $50,000 annually. Employees weren't the only ones to lose out. Many used to donate their birds to local nonprofits to give to the poor. An unknown number of employees were laid off when the paper's attempt at forming its own advertising agency, Mercury Marketing, folded after a year of struggling to sign clients. The San Jose Newspaper Guild warned employees to have their vision and teeth checked after the San Francisco Chronicle cut health benefits to its employees. The two papers share language in their union bargaining contracts that says what one paper provides to employees, the other will provide. Things have hit such a low point at the Mercury News, which is owned by the $5 billion Knight Ridder corporation, whose stock was riding a five-year high last spring, that employees have again begun calling the paper by its in-house nickname, the "Murky News."

Mud Wrestling at The Labor Temple

Labor boss Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins has launched a PR counteroffensive to her legal nemesis, who appeared in this column two weeks ago. In the item, ex-Labor Council accountant Teddie Lavallee complained about the lack of documents and depositions in her ongoing lawsuit with the South Bay labor umbrella organization ("Labor Council Stonewalling Continues," Sept. 29, fourth item). Ellis-Lamkins insists that she was willing to be deposed but that Lavallee's attorney abruptly changed the venue and, in fact, Lavallee was the one unwilling to be deposed. She also suggests Lavallee's case is on shaky ground because her attorney is suing George Bush for $7 billion for his role in 9/11 and because Lavallee was unaware of discrimination claims in some of the court filings. Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas has awarded the Labor Council $1,400 in sanctions, she says. Ellis-Lamkins faxed Fly 23 pages of documents apparently meant to discredit Lavallee once and for all (and no, the infamous credit card receipts, which Lavallee contends will document illegal financial activities by Ellis-Lamkins and her predecessor, Amy Dean, were not included). Ellis-Lamkins provided criminal records from the state of Texas that indicate Lavallee pled guilty in 1991 to a check forgery charge. Lavallee's story? Yeah, she did it, she says. She was a single mom. She had two kids. She was struggling financially. She paid back the 9 grand. She regrets the blemish on her record, but contends her record is spotless before and after that. Other than making things uncomfortable for Lavallee, whose sacking was unrelated to her criminal history since her bosses were oblivious to her record at the time, we're not sure what relevance they have to the greater questions of public interest. And those relate to whether the politically powerful labor leadership will come clean on how it spent millions raised for charitable purposes by demonstrating accountability and transparency.


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From the October 13-19, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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