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Not Sorry: Councilman Jack Morton has no regrets after accusing council colleague Nancy Lytle and two cohorts of criminal misdeeds

Public Eye

Point and Clique

Orange won't be a fashion color in Palo Alto this holiday season after all. Despite accusations of impropriety and lawbreaking on the City Council leveled by first-term Councilmember Jack Morton against three of his colleagues, an outside attorney hired to sort the mess out says no one is heading for the slammer, at least for now. Still, insiders say the stab wounds in the backs around City Hall make it look like a prison-yard rumble anyway. "Morton needs to make as his first stop a public apology, and that hasn't happened," snaps Councilmember Hillary Freeman, who, along with Councilmembers Nancy Lytle and Yoriko Kishimoto, was accused by Morton in a Nov. 6 open memo of improperly directing city staff and conducting illegal closed-door sessions in violation of the Brown Act. "I don't understand what an apology would consist of," retorts a noncontrite Morton, who adds, "We avoided a Brown Act violation by a hair." The person most deserving of an apology, he says, is City Attorney Ariel Calonne, who was asked privately by each of the three amigos to withdraw a grievance that Calonne penned about Lytle after she rebuked him at a council meeting. Those in the know tell Eye that personal tensions have been brewing on the council, most notably between Lytle and her council adversaries, for some time. "Nancy Lytle has variously infuriated and alienated all of the colleagues who have worked with her in the past two years, and there's a deep reservoir of frustration," says a source familiar with the dispute. Although she's charismatic and knowledgeable, "she's ultimately a very strong controller and unable to compromise." Fellow Councilmember Dena Mossar believes there's a cliquishness that hasn't been good for the council as a whole. "It's all about slate politics," she says. "[Lytle, Freeman and Kishimoto] act and vote as a tight-knit group. Their goal is to come out on top. They're trying to make other colleagues wrong so they can be right." (A weekly--or not-so-weekly, depending on whom you ask--study group comprising the three members has also raised suspicions among other councilmembers.) "I'm astonished at the way this was handled and that it was so blown up; it's feeling very political, very partisan," comments one insider. "Do you think if these outspoken elected officials had been named Gary, Joe and Dick that this would have happened?" The strong-women theory is "horseshit," counters Eye's other source, while allowing that Morton's decision to go public with his charges "was a huge tactical error." But Morton is in no mood to back down. "The staff and the rest of the council are all aware of serious problems [on the council], but no one's willing to discuss them," he says. "I want there to be changes." As for that apology, says Councilmember Freeman, "I wouldn't bet my firstborn on it."

Staging a Comeback

Eye cried on the inside as big dreams of a lively urban nighttime proved too elusive for downtown San Jose. Not to dredge up bad news, but the House of Blues' fickle noncommitment to settle in the Woolworth Building was a giant disappointment ("Betting on Blues," June 28, 2001; Public Eye, "Financial Blues," Sept. 27, 2001). Why can't San Jose get a life? Eye wonders. Thankfully, things could be looking up. The San Jose Stage Company might move into bigger and better digs in a few years, according to a proposal in the early stages of the planning process that would situate the local entertainment venue as the main tenant in the old Dimensions club building on South First Street. "We've basically outgrown this space," says Stage Company executive director Cathleen King.The theater company, which puts on off-Broadway-style shows, would escape from a space, also on South First, that it never quite fit anyway. "It was a renovated [tire service center], and so the function of it does not work very well," says Jerry Strangis, local real estate company owner and president of San Jose Stage Company's board of directors. The move, says Strangis, would brighten up downtown. "A new space like that will bring people down there," he tells Eye. In addition to the San Jose Stage Company perhaps helping to save the day in a couple of years, don't miss the potentially star-studded goodbye roast for termed-out Councildude (and apparent Sopranos fan, in case that's meaningful to some) George Shirakawa Jr. at the San Jose State Stage Company Tuesday, Dec. 10. Mayor Ron Gonzales is emceeing and, if the cartoony Italian-American TV culture-based invite is any indication, the normally unilingual city official might say the word "capiche" at some point. Call 408.283.7142 to reserve your $30 ticket.

Security With a Smile

The San Francisco Board of Supes, Eye has learned, unanimously approved a citywide standard for building security last month. Its method? Cheer up the grumbling security guards with better wages and benefits so they'll try harder to keep out the terrorists. (It's a different approach from the federal government's tactic of firing all the foreigners who screened bags at airports, but hey, perhaps it'll work.) Here's San Francisco's concept. Besides giving the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 24/7 a bigger stick in its negotiations for a new labor contract with private security companies and building owners (the SEIU's city-backed requests include affordable health care, better wages, paid sick days and more training), the supes' resolution aims to restore confidence in homeland defense. Backers say a better-compensated security workforce would cut turnover and help reassure the public that the guards have things under control. ... "I wouldn't feel comfortable revealing how much this would cost [the commercial real estate industry and security companies] right now," says Eric Lerner, staff director for SEIU Local 24/7. "But janitors get more than security guards do." Lerner adds that only three hours of training for security guards are required presently, and even though a new state law will soon increase the required training to 40 hours, the SEIU proposes to make 40 hours a minimum. So the next question is, If San Francisco needs citywide standards for building security after Sept. 11, does that mean San Jose does too? The SEIU can't say--security guards are nonunion in San Jose, though Lerner does say they are better compensated than their counterparts to the north. "Absolutely, we need more security. We are the first line of defense," says Keith Barna, president and CEO of Barna P.I. and Security in San Jose. "I would say a lot of companies run into financial struggles, which is causing them to drop security and making the workplace exposed. I would certainly be in favor of [citywide standards on] more security." Eye nods vigorously in agreement. Terrorism, after all, must be thwarted at all costs--even if the costs involve bumping up the pay, training and benefits for the security guards, right? "I don't think I would approve that," Barna says. "The reason would be that there are certain limits to still make it profitable."

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From the December 5-11, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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