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FPPC Complaints are Complaints, Not Investigations

Editor’s Note: In this article, we mistakenly labeled City Clerk Hosam Haggag as a Gillmor ally. Mr. Haggag correctly pointed out that he is an elected official. It has been corrected.

Just because the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) logs a complaint doesn’t mean that the commission is investigating the complaint, found it has merit or has even looked at it. But some voices in Santa Clara would have people believe that complaints — some of which they have filed — are the same thing as an investigation.

For, example Council Member Kathy Watanabe and Lee Broughman, the campaign treasurer for Mayor Lisa Gillmor and a Santa Clara libraries trustee, bring up these complaints at almost every council meeting, falsely calling them “investigations.” Public gadfly and Gillmor champion James Rowen routinely sends mass emails attacking council members based on complaints he himself has filed.

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All the hullabaloo is based on four complaints, filed by City Clerk Hosam Haggag and two Gillmor allies: fired City Attorney Brian Doyle and Rowen.

Doyle’s complaint, filed earlier this year, accuses Council Members Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy of taking a stadium operations tour during a game — part of their responsibilities as members of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority (SCSA) — and not reporting this as a gift. Doyle also complained that Hardy accepted a bottle of water during the operations tour.

Two complaints were filed on July 25, 2021 by City Clerk Haggag against Council Member Kevin Park. Another complaint against Park was filed within minutes of the complaint filed by Haggag. That complaint was filed by one-time South Bay politico James Rowen. Because the complaints are similar, they were combined into an investigation that is “open and ongoing,” said FPPC Communications Director Jay Wierenga.  

Haggag also filed a complaint earlier this year against the 49ers PAC supporting Council Member Anthony Becker for Mayor. This complaint has been dismissed. The rest of the complaints listed above are pending.

The complaints against Chahal and Hardy don’t appear to be under active investigation at this time.

“Please note that although a case has been opened,” the FPPC wrote to the council members, “we have not determined the validity of the allegations made against you or the culpability of anyone identified in the complaint.”

“Complaints are all taken under review to determine merit, to determine whether to open an investigation,” said Wierenga. “We are required to make a determination, by law and regulation. There is a specific process in our regulations.

“If a complaint is deemed not to have merit, to not indicate a violation, [or] not enough information [is] included, it is then dismissed,” Wierenga continued. “If a complaint is deemed to have merit, to indicate any potential violation of the Act, then an investigation begins.”

City Attorney: No There, There on Operations Tour Complaint

The question about the operations tour was referred to the Santa Clara City Attorney’s office, which reported to the Council on June 21 that this should not be considered a gift under the FPPC’s definition of “gift.”

Previous advice given by the FPPC found that such tickets were properly considered informational material, which is exempt from gift reporting requirements.

In 1993, the FPPC determined that free tickets given to a City theater manager to watch a show at a private theater “did not constitute a gift because the theater manager attended the performance to evaluate potential performers for the City.”

Santa Clara Deputy City Attorney Luis Haro wrote in his report about the stadium tour that “informational material” means any item which serves primarily to convey information and which is provided to an official for the purpose of assisting him or her in the performance of official duties.

“The FPPC considers several factors when determining whether a tour qualifies as informational material,” he continued. “Will the tour primarily convey information; is the tour specifically designed for public officials; was the tour formally structured to convey information to the officials; and does the tour appear extravagant in value or nature in relationship to the information conveyed.”

Haro further explained, “The tour was primarily designed to convey information because …[it was] specifically highlighting issues relevant to the governing body for the stadium. The tour was specifically designed for the council members/Stadium Authority members evidenced by the fact that they accessed areas of the stadium that are not open to the public such as the temporary holding facility. The tour was also intended to convey information about stadium operations and security procedures.”

Finally, Haro said, “…free admission to the stadium during a game was arguably necessary to accurately assess the operation of the stadium in real time.”

FPPC Complaints as Political Tactics

Filing FPPC complaints as a political tactic is not new in Santa Clara. In 2016, attorney John Mlnarik filed a series of FPPC complaints against candidates Kathy Watanabe, Tino Silva and Debi Davis alleging that they were using the services of Related’s lobbyist Jude Barry without reporting these as donations of services. These complaints were dismissed.

However, the three were each fined about $600 by the FPPC for failing to file disclosures on a timely basis about campaign consulting services received from Santa Clara youth soccer league’s board member and former president, Gabe Foo.

At the time, Davis and Watanabe were on the Ethics Committee.

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9 Comments
  1. Buchser Alum 2 months ago
    Reply

    Carolyn,

    I agree with you that “FPPC investigations” are cited far too much in our city council meetings and that it is important for people to understand that a complaint being on file and which only will potentially result in an investigation is not an actual investigation. And to get a complaint on file a person only needs to file a complaint. Many are frivolous and I think even the matter of Chahal and Hardy’s free football game passes is not important.

    What I think is important and which I wish you or someone at Silicon Valley Voice would report on is who else was invited by the Forty Niners to attend that stadium tour they were on. Were Becker and Jain and Park invited as well? Were Gillmor and Watanabe invited as well? Were any other city staff invited?

    On another site devoted to local politics someone claiming to be Watanabe stated that she was not invited. Why are the Forty Niners only inviting select stadium commissioners to tour the stadium during a game? Is this something they run like the private weekly meetings they have with only five out of the seven commissioners? Did they only want to invite two or three at a time because like with the private meetings if there are four or more together then the meeting must be public?

    That is something I wish that a local news organization like Silicon Valley Voice would look into. It is good to make sure that people know that many FPPC complaints can be politically motivated and without basis.

    And it is good for a local news organization to do some investigation or reporting into FPPC complaints that warrant investigation and reporting. Such as all these private meetings obviously structured to evade public meeting requirements.

    https://santaclaranews.org/2022/09/27/special-report-evidence-that-santa-clara-police-officers-and-stadium-manager-were-not-aware-of-raj-chahal-and-karen-hardys-game-visit-for-an-operational-tour/#comment-11789

    • Davy L 2 months ago
      Reply

      I disagree. This is a small local paper with very limited budgets and reporters. “Buchser Alum” may wish this and that, but the cost and resources and time are too high and would likely not interest most readers. Suggest “Buchser Alum” devote some hours and hours of his own time and effort to look into all these items of his concern.

      • Buchser Alum 2 months ago
        Reply

        Davy,

        Of course you disagree as you do as you clearly believe exactly whatever it is that writers of the Silicon Valley Voice believe or write or argue in lockstep.

        I have learned that there is no use discussing issues with you because you do not have discussions and do not ever acknowledge anything questionable about what you started the discussion believing. Including things you have claimed were made up but are just basic public facts.

        For anyone else who is reading and who actually thinks that Davy raises a good point: it requires no cost and very little time to send an email to these councilpeople and ask them some questions about the questionable behavior they have engaged in.

        Carolyn Schuk and the Silicon Valley Voice clearly have the budget and time to get answers or quotes from these very same councilpeople when they are writing articles supporting these councilpeople or the Forty Niners.

        I am asking for this small local paper to do what small local papers are supposed to do and can easily do: report on and investigate local issues with journalistic ethics and to try their best to not allow personal biases color their reporting.

        • Davy L 2 months ago
          Reply

          Buchser Alum,
          As usual, I completely disagree. Instead of asking this paper and others to perform your tasks, I suggest you write to these council people yourself. Go ahead. Ask your questions and afterwards inform the local papers and public of their answers. You may be surprise to hear their replies. You have all their emails and contacts. Go do it and stop all your complaining.

          • Buchser Alum 2 months ago

            Davy,

            You do make it abundantly clear how much your opinion on these matters should be valued. I will credit you to that extent.

            As I said before: if Davy L’s standard of journalism is the one that the Silicon Valley Voice aspires to then by all means the Silicon Valley Voice should continue to do as it has been doing.

          • Davy L 2 months ago

            I have no problem with that. I enjoy their articles. I find them to be honest, informative, and pleasant to read. And they are all very much in contrast to your many nonsense comments.

  2. Hosam Haggag - City Clerk 2 months ago
    Reply

    Ms. Schuk writes, “All the hullabaloo is based on four complaints filed by three Gillmor allies: City Clerk Hosam Haggag…” what here makes me a Gillmor ally? Am I not doing my job as the elected City Clerk by referring filing / reporting violations to the state agency responsible for investigating and enforcing compliance? How does anything I have done here warrant an editorial comment alleging “allyship” with anybody? Where does Ms. Gillmor fit in this article at all – other than to attempt to demonize an actor? If I turned a blind eye to the alleged errors in Mr. Park’s filings would that have made me an ally to Mr. Park? Or had I turned a blind eye to the alleged errors in the Debartolo / 49er PAC supporting Mr. Becker would that have made me a 49er ally? The only conclusion you would insinuate to a reader is that “Gillmor ally = bad” by aligning me to her, or Mr. Doyle, or Mr. Rowen.

    In your first email correspondence to me you also assumed (incorrectly) that I had allied myself with Mr. Rowen – again with the intent to insinuate that “Rowen ally = bad”. You stated: “What’s the explanation of this unusual sequence of events, and why is Santa Clara City Clerk acting jointly with an individual well-known for his extreme partisanship?” In essence, you had already reached your conclusion (which was factually incorrect) and sought my reaction for your article.

    There’s also factual errors in Ms. Schuk’s reporting. As I clearly stated to her in an email correspondence between us on this topic I have never aligned myself with anybody in filing joint complaints. Suggesting that Mr. Rowen’s complaint was filed minutes after mine is categorically incorrect. The FPPC in their response to your inquiry to them (I appreciate you taking my suggestion) clearly stated that “COM-03252021-00633 filed by Hosam Hoggag [sic] against Kevin Park; and 2) COM-06072022-01793 filed by James Rowen” clearly shows that those complaints were filed nearly 15 months apart. The Complaint numbers are timestamped – with mine having been filed March 25, 2021, and Mr. Rowen’s complaint having been filed June 7, 2022.

    It is true that FPPC complaints are often weaponized during election season, but those instances do not apply in my circumstance. My complaints against Mr. Park were filed in March of last year, and my complaint against the 49er PAC was filed as soon as the inconsistencies occurred. Attempting to cast doubt to my impartiality for these alleged violations as your duly elected City Clerk is simply a tactic to discredit my authority, and likely another attempt to persuade residents that the City Clerk should not be an elected official. Santa Clarans should be proud that I can maintain my independence and not serve at the will of 4 individuals on the Council had I been appointed and for whom the City Clerk may feel conflicted to report alleged violations of. I can only report the inconsistencies and alleged violations, while it is still up to the FPPC to determine their findings for each investigation.

    It remains a fact that I was elected by more voters than the Mayor and all 6 Council Members combined. If that is not a mandate by the voters to impartially enforce the rules, then I don’t know what is.

  3. Ann Ravel 2 months ago
    Reply

    While I am not commenting on Santa Clara political issues, what I appreciate about your article is that it states precisely what I think is important for people, and the press, to recognize. The filing of a complaint with the FPPC, while of interest to the public, is not evidence that the FPPC considers that the complaint has validity. Until there is an investigation and a final conclusion by the FPPC, a complaint (which often is filed for political reasons) in and of itself is not evidence that the official has violated the law.
    I am the former Chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

  4. Watching On the Sidelines 1 month ago
    Reply

    Carolyn, thank you for this article it is most informative and eye opening. It also shows us how low some players in SC stoop to manipulate an outcome they so want. Keep up the good work.

    Haggag, sadly you have always been seen to be a political Ally of the current Mayor. Those that have watched you over the years are very aware of this. You may wish to shake off that image but sadly those that look from a distance can see what you don’t see, she wanted you in that position to fill a void she didn’t know how to fill once she got rid of Rod. Plus you were a threat to her, you could have been Mayor eventually. You were a threat. Make no mistake you were manipulated, for all we know you may still be and you don’t realize it.

    Buchser Alum; piece of advice Stop reading that gossip column called a Blog, thats not someone investigating that’s someone being given directions on what to write. Another person being Manipulated.

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