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Ethics Committee Reconvenes, Plans New Charter Review and Pans 2016 Santa Clara Democracy Forums

On Monday night the Santa Clara City Council’s Ethics Committee resumed business after a nine-month hiatus. On the agenda was convening a new charter review–the third since 2010–, a debrief on the 2016 election from Democracy Consultant Fred Keeley, and directing review and update of Santa Clara’s campaign finance ordinance and ethics, conduct and good government standards.

The new charter review follows-on to last year’s charter review. Commissioned to review Santa Clara’s at-large by-seat election system, last year’s committee punted on the question and recommended the Council appoint another committee.

Santa Clara currently faces a definite threat of a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit.

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“One of the issues is the election method,” said Mayor Lisa Gillmor. But there were also others. “One of the things I’m interested in is the general plan … and other things the community is interested in.”

The committee is recommending a nine-member committee, with each Council Member making one appointment and the Council as a whole making two at-large appointments. Previous charter reviews included the Citizens Advisory Committee and the Chamber of Commerce. The full Council must approve the plan.

The second subject the Ethics Committee discussed was debrief of the 2016 Santa Clara Votes program by consultant Fred Keeley. Keeley’s report is available at SantaClaraCa.gov.

Keeley concluded that: candidate forums should be a few weeks apart instead of a week apart, Santa Clara has no process for managing independent expenditure committees, and the accountability forum was beset by confusion about its purpose and clerical problems such as the City’s policy of not providing phone numbers and email addresses for consultants.

The committee, however, seemed most critical of the fact that the accountability forum allowed candidates to call their opponents out on their conduct.

“I don’t think the accountability forum worked,” Gillmor said. “Members for one seat were attacking members from another seat. And the challenges that were made weren’t clear,” she told Keeley. “There were very unusual attacks, personal attacks.”

“I was surprised about the people who lashed out,” said Debi Davis, whose opponent filed a complaint against her for a July Tweet saying he was “backed by the 49ers, his phone number ends in 4949.” In fact, McLemore received no support from the 49ers, direct or indirect.

“Having been a participant,” said Kathleen Watanabe, “I really feel that whole part of the process needs to change. A candidate is going through enough stress … without having to go before a kangaroo court. It was very stressful. I feel that something like that needs to change. That can affect good people wanting to run for office.”

Two complaints were filed against Watanabe for statements she had made at a forum held at the S.E.S. Hall. She claimed, first, that candidate Anthony Becker had received money that he, in fact had not. Watanabe later apologized.

Watanabe second claim was that candidate Patricia Mahan–who wasn’t running against Watanabe–had voted against the Rivermark development as a Council Member in 2000, when Council meeting minutes show unanimous approval of the project.

But Gillmor’s interest Monday night was Dark Money. “No where in here [did you address] the use of Dark Money,” she told Keeley.

“For me,” said Keeley,” that fits into that general category. I was very surprised that during the course of the election cycle that I didn’t get one single complaint from a candidate about IE money. The Dark Money issue lives in the FPPC world.” In other words he didn’t see that addressing this was covered by his contract with the City.

“I thought you were contracting on the election,” said Gillmor. “I’m wondering why you didn’t comment on that issue.”

In a later discussion of the committee’s work plan to review Santa Clara’s ethics code, campaign ethics standards and campaign finance ordinance, Gillmor returned to Dark Money.

“Is the Dark Money issue a campaign finance issue?” she wanted to know, saying that she wanted to put the issue on the table. “I’m not sure it’s a campaign finance issue.”

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