Whatever Monday afternoon’s “Democracy Forum” was, it wasn’t democratic and it wasn’t a forum. It wasn’t democratic because not everybody got to participate. And it wasn’t a forum because it wasn’t a place for discussion or commentary, nor a court, tribunal or place of assembly.
Only three complaints got a hearing: Two from candidate Patricia Mahan against her opponents Tino Silva and Council Member Kathleen Watanabe and one from retired SCPD officer Bryan Sterkel against Police Chief Mike Sellers. The parties’ answers to the complaints haven’t been published.
The Democracy Forum is a replacement for Santa Clara’s election-eve Final Word Forum, according to City Democracy Consultant Fred Keeley.
At a time when many voters cast early ballots or vote by mail, events the night before the election have limited usefulness, said Keeley. Unlike the Final Word Forum, there can be multiple Democracy Forums, they can happen any time and are limited to formal complaints deemed by Keeley to rise to the level of requiring a public airing.
Some campaign complaints are about city enforcement issues such as illegally posted signs, Keeley explained, and as such, are handled by code enforcement. Others concern the city’s code of ethics, not campaign ethics, or are adequately addressed in other ways; for example, candidate Anthony Becker’s complaint against Council Member Kathleen Watanabe that she falsely said that Becker’s campaign, and those of other candidates she opposes, are financed by attorney John Mlnarik.
Mlnarik filed Fair Political Practices Commission complaints about four candidates – including Watanabe – and the Police Officers Association and Stand Up For Santa Clara PACs.
Keeley’s said that Watanabe’s written apology, which he read aloud at the meeting, was sufficient because Watanabe’s public statement – “my opponents took money” – didn’t mention Becker by name. “I thought his issue was addressed,” Keeley said. “I thought the record got clarified.”
The discussion featured the same ugly rhetoric that’s been filling city mailboxes.
Mahan’s complaints were that Silva and Watanabe falsely stated that she violated the city’s lobbying ordinance (Silva) and that she had voted against the Rivermark development in 2000 (Watanabe).
“An independent counsel stated that I didn’t have any violations [of the lobbying law], said Mahan. Yet, “on a website that belongs to Mr. Silva [Stand Up For Santa Clara] …this innuendo was published more than one time,” including using the word “illegal” in headlines, which rank higher in search engine indexing than does other text.
Silva called the Forum as a waste of time, saying “this is ludicrous that I am even here” and posing the rhetorical question, “All Vision is a company that puts up signs…Why would All Vision call in an estate planner?”
“One of the reasons I founded Stand Up for Santa Clara was because of our mayor doing back door deals,” he said. “There were so many back door deals going on. I was lied to by the city, by the mayor, by the City Manager.”
A few minutes later he appeared to contradict himself, saying “I have absolutely nothing to do with this website” and that he didn’t post anything. “I’m sorry we all had to waste our time. Sorry Patty, the conclusion is in black and white.”
Mahan responded that her work for All Vision concerned California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) law, a torturously complex area of California law that her time on the Council and as Mayor gave her significant experience in. However, she had not previously been legally able to practice CEQA law because of her public office; but as a private attorney she can.
“That’s one of the reasons I started Stand Up,” said Silva again. “How many other clients do you have?”
Following that exchange, Sterkel presented his claim that the police chief misrepresented his relationship with department employees.
Sterkel’s redacted-for-confidentiality complaint alleges that when Sellers’ statements that there were no grievances or complaints against him from the POA were “untrue,” and that there was, in fact, a grievance filed on Aug. 18.
“This employee didn’t file a grievance,” said Sellers. “He used the wrong form. He filed a complaint against another employee.” The city’s HR department has hired an outside group, to investigate it, he continued. “The employee’s name is listed [in Sterkel’s complaint], which is inappropriate. The dates are wrong. It shows he talked to the mediator before the investigator.”
Sterkel’s statement shows that the HR manager confirmed that she received the complaint on Aug. 23, but that the employee’s interview with a mediator took place on Aug. 21.
Last was Mahan’s complaint about Watanabe’s statement at several candidate forums and to the Mercury News that in 2000 Mahan opposed the Rivermark development in a 4-3 vote.
Mahan stated that the record didn’t support this. There were several votes on different components of the Rivermark project on Sept. 24, 2000, said Mahan. The motion to approve the EIR, the final project and design plan all passed unanimously. The rezoning motion passed 5-2, with Mahan and McLemore dissenting because they wanted more open space in the plan.
“I’m pleased to stand here and defend statements I have made,” replied Watanabe. “ I love Rivermark. There was a reconsideration of the project, and it was only after that … she voted for it. I will stand by the record and the minutes.”
No minutes have been presented to substantiate either claim. Watanabe then changed the subject.
“Miss Mahan seems to like to take digs,” she said. “She made a comment on Facebook that I had missed the downtown revitalization meeting. I was at the 49ers game with my husband and his boss.”
The downtown groups had been trying to meet for some time, she said, and she didn’t think it was fair to delay the meeting. “I found it very troubling [for her] to post something so low on Facebook. It was a very, very petty thing to do.”
“I don’t know where you get that information about the reconsideration,” said Mahan. And returning to the downtown meeting, she said, “This job demands sacrifice. It always comes first, in my mind.”
“That’s right, you are the good people according to BLUPAC,” replied Watanabe. “There’s so much I could say right now. It’s very unfortunate Mr. Becker decided to bring copies of the Santa Clara Weekly to the S.E.S. Hall to expose Teresa O’Neill, Tino Silva, Debi Davis and myself as having committed campaign violations.”
The Forums are not judicial proceedings, explained Keeley. “Voters are the ones who decide, without anyone [interposing] to interpret for them. My job is to present a venue for the parties who have a dispute to present it, uncolored by any remarks or characterization by me.” So there are no findings and no consequences – except the ones voters impose.