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Obey Your Master: Mayor Hammer's chief of staff, Gary Robinson, quit his post to take a P.R. job with Masters Institute.

Robinson Cruises

For seven years he was the chief of staff to the mayor of the country's 11th largest city. Now he's taking a job as the vice president for public affairs at Masters Institute, a cheesy high-tech trade school advertised on Howard Stern's radio show. Even though Gary Robinson will be making more money at Masters (he pulled in $62,200 working for Mayor Hammer last year; he won't say how much he'll make at his new job), Eye can't help but think he's moving a few rungs down the career ladder. A few months ago, a METRO cover story detailed the plights of disgruntled Masters graduates who, instead of moving on to a well-paying job in the computer world, settled for toiling in pizza design and CD shuffling. Of course, Robinson doesn't see it that way and says he's very excited about his new digs. He'll join SJSU prof Larry Gerston, who just became the trade school's president. Masters' leaders must be hoping Robinson can do for their image what he did for the charismatically challenged mayor's image. ... Robinson was the local incarnation of Michael Deaver, Ronald Reagan's image-maker. As legend has it, Robinson went so far as to apply gels to the lights in the council chambers so Hammer wouldn't have to squint during meetings. Aside from budget czar Bob Brownstein, no one else had the mayor's ear more than Robinson, though few outside the San Jose beltway have ever heard of him. "In my opinion, the best staff people are the ones behind the scenes," Robinson boasts. "My job is to make sure Susan Hammer is in the news in a positive way. I don't get paid to have my name show up in the newspaper." With Robinson gone, longtime mayoral paper-shuffler Sean Morley will be serving as Hammer's chief of staff in her final year.

Casting Stones

County tax assessor Larry Stone may have lost the battle to keep auditors from looking at property assessments, but the adroit pol seems to be faring well in the spin war. Stone has deftly managed to shift the issue from "what has the assessor got to hide?" to "the Board of Supervisors wants to raise your property taxes." The headline in the Mercury News from last week: "Assessor says supervisors' move could increase property owners' bills." From a news-spin standpoint, Stone's is pure genius. News organizations like to emphasize how a story affects their readers. By announcing that people's property tax bills could be going up, whether true or not, Stone bought himself a sweet lead and headline and foreshadowed his upcoming campaign theme, "Larry Stone: Defender of the taxpayer." ... The board narrowly voted to go ahead with the comprehensive management audit by a vote of 3-2. Supervisor Pete McHugh, who ran against Stone for assessor in 1994, cast the deciding vote. Board-hired auditor Roger Mialocq apparently was very anxious to get things started. According to Stone's hatchet man, David Ginsborg, Mialocq handed Stone a typed memo just as Stone exited the board chambers after the vote. It read, "The Board of Supervisors today approved a comprehensive management audit of your office.... [W]e plan commencing field work tomorrow." ... Stone insists that he welcomes a management audit but objects to the auditor examining his property assessments, the accuracy of which was reviewed by the state earlier in the yeavr. The feisty tax man, however, says he won't be taking the matter to court as previously hyped.

The Solomon Principle

Last month the Mercury News pulled a clever little hoax. They got Dilbert creator Scott Adams to pose as a gibberish-spouting consultant and sent him into a boardroom at Logitech International in Fremont to wreak havoc in a staff meeting. Reporter Tia O'Brien posed as his assistant, "Sheena Diamond," took notes and wrote a 4,000-word piece on the episode for the Merc's fluffy Sunday insert, West magazine. So what's wrong with a little newsmaking in the name of entertainment? It's Dilbert, after all, the champion of the cubicle-dweller; the geeky-tied darling of the wage-slave secretary and the software executive alike. Lefty media-watcher Norman Solomon, whose book The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh was published the same day, argues that while it pokes fun at the foibles of management, the real Dilbert message pacifies workers with cynicism. Where the Merc, Adams, and Logitech saw a good joke, Solomon sees class warfare. "I would have had a heart attack if Scott Adams had gone undercover with a labor union or a group of working people trying to expose the day-to-day predicament they face under the heel of management priorities," Solomon says. "The West magazine extravaganza is where their economic sights are pointed--the big movers and shakers." Aw, Norm, can't a mega-media conglomerate have any fun?

Well, Excuse Me

A thousand apologies to county executive Richard Wittenberg, whom Eye misquoted last week in an item dealing with term limits. Wittenberg was paraphrased as telling the charter review committee that it takes supervisors at least eight years to learn their jobs, so they should get another term. Actually, he told the committee that eight years isn't long enough for the supervisors to carry out their plans, so they should get another term.

Oracle's Oracles

Before Oracle's stock plummeted nearly 30 percent earlier this month and devoured $2 billion of Larry Ellison's Monopoly money, industry analysts all thought the software company was as hot as ever, rating the stock a "buy." But two company executives might have foreseen the disaster looming ahead. In late October, Oracle chief financial officer and VP Jeffrey Henley exercised more than $3 million worth of stock options. That's not necessarily a big deal, since corporate execs tap stock options like they would cash in a salary bonus, sources say. More conspicuous, says a high-tech investment analyst in San Francisco, was when company prez Raymond Lane sold 200,000 shares from his personal portfolio at the pre-crash value before the end of the quarter. Industry forecasters didn't make much of the insider stock-dumping, though one guy with Goldman & Sachs downgraded the stock on Dec. 1, ostensibly because of the financial crisis in Asia.

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From the December 24-31, 1997 issue of Metro.

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