San Jose Mercury News

Internal Affairs: Was something overlooked amid Santa Clara County counsel's leadership shuffle?

By the Mercury News

August 26, 2012

Santa Clara County's current headache over whether or not its eighth-cent sales tax measure on the fall ballot is legal probably wasn't helped by all the commotion going on inside the county counsel's office when the idea first surfaced at the June 5 board of supervisors meeting.

After all, on May 18 Gov. Jerry Brown's office had announced that County Counsel Miguel Marquez was headed for a seat on the Sixth District Court of Appeal. Marquez's last day as the county's top legal adviser was June 22, and Lori Pegg has since been running the legal department. On June 26 vote, the supervisors voted to place the tax on the Nov. 6 ballot, which they finalized on Aug. 7.

We wondered whether legal requirements for scheduling tax elections got overlooked amid the leadership shuffle. Prop. 218, a 1996 initiative, requires proposed tax increases to appear on a ballot on which at least one elected governing seat will be decided. Because the county supervisors races were decided in the June 5 primary, there will be no November vote on board seats, a fact that gave the Silicon Valley Taxpayers' Association ammunition to argue in a lawsuit that the tax cannot go on that ballot.

Pegg insisted her office was fully aware of the matter, as did Orry Korb, an assistant county counsel.

"In the normal course of considering any question with regard to a tax, Prop. 218 is going to be relevant," Korb said. "It's not rocket science for any public lawyer."

Marquez, meanwhile, declined to comment on the matter but said he will recuse himself from the case if it's appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeal. First stop comes Monday morning when the matter will come before Superior Court Judge Kevin McKenney.

One has Solyndra, the other has Akin

Solyndra may be bankrupt, but the Fremont solar power firm that President Barack Obama once held as a model for federal clean-energy investment continues to pay dividends for his opponent, Mitt Romney.

Camp Romney this week blasted reporters with news releases noting reports that the $90 million sale of Solyndra's vacant headquarters to Seagate Technologies is less than a third of the more than $300 million Solyndra paid for it with help from its $500 million federal stimulus loan. And, Romney noted, investors including an Obama fundraiser are in line ahead of taxpayers for proceeds from that $90 million sale.

Lucky for Obama, GOP Rep. Todd Akin was still refusing to duck out of the Missouri Senate race after embarrassing Republicans everywhere with his remarks about "legitimate rape" and his apparent ignorance of human biology.

Here's the Goldie rule -- I love you, man!

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, sometimes called the Golden Spigot, has been feeling heat lately. Given that the district is proposing an extension of its parcel tax for the November ballot, it's not a particularly comforting feeling.

In an attempt to bolster morale, CEO Beau Goldie on Wednesday sent out a missive that wags within the agency have dubbed the "I love you, man" letter.

Titled "our continued good work in the face of negative media attention," Goldie's message noted that the NBC Bay Area news team had questioned expense reports and that Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold, a sometime contributor to IA, had written a scathing piece that ignored all the good work the agency had done. (Herhold reported that the district is spending $162,000 for a management conference at the Hayes mansion.)

"We are trustees of the public's money and we are accountable to the community for how we operate," Goldie wrote. "But I know how genuinely our staff strives every day to provide the highest quality services that we can to accomplish our mission."

The agency CEO concluded with the words of a coach rallying the team at halftime. "The reality is that when negativity surfaces, sometimes we just have to stay focused and remind each other that we each matter and that, as a team, we are better."

At $2,000 a pop, they're welcome here anytime

"We investigate'' is the motto of the NBC Bay Area News investigative team.

So where do they strut their stuff?

Try San Jose City Hall. The team recently filmed a 30-second promotional video inside the City Hall Rotunda. The spot showed television reporters and editors marching up and down the Rotunda stairs while an announcer intoned lines like, "We investigate when you don't have a voice but still have a story to tell."

You may remember that one of the investigative team's targets earlier this year was Mayor Chuck Reed, who was confronted by reporter Jenna Susko over the city's projections of pension costs. Unless you were a budget wonk, it was hard to follow the back and forth over the $650 million estimate.

By the time you understood it, you no longer cared. A state audit last week offered ammunition for both sides of the controversy.

But the NBC Bay Area news team is at least ready to help the financially strapped city: It paid $2,000 to rent the Rotunda.


Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at local and state politics. This week's items were written by Tracy Seipel, Scott Herhold, John Woolfolk and Paul Rogers. Send tips to, or call 408-975-9346.

This article is also available on the Web site of the San Jose Mercury News, here.

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