By Pete Campbell
This past week, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury issued a report that concluded that the City of San Jose was “duped” into wasting $11.25 million on a garbage contract. The Grand Jury Report recommends that an independent special investigator be assigned and that the city attorney take the necessary legal steps to “rescind the $11.25 million Norcal/CWS reimbursement.”
“The Grand Jury has serious concerns about the deceptive conduct of the Mayor and others, and about the resulting vote by the Council to approve the $11.25 million payment to Norcal.”
At a hastily called press conference, San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales spoke out against the Grand Jury Report. “My belief in the objectivity of the Grand Jury has been greatly undermined by this sensationalized report.” He added that he was disappointed, “that the Grand Jury has eroded public confidence in its effectiveness as a watchdog agency by stooping to the level of tabloid journalism.”
The summary outline of the Grand Jury Report states that the Grand Jury received a complaint that claimed that over a four year period, “the Mayor of San Jose concealed and misrepresented relevant facts from the San Jose City Council in promoting Norcal Waste Systems Inc. as one of the two waste haulers for the City of San Jose. These acts, in apparent violation of San Jose’s City Charter, ultimately cost the City of San Jose $11.25 million.”
The summary goes on to say that, “the concealments and misrepresentations resulted in a majority of the Councilmembers unwittingly being convinced by the Mayor and his Policy and Budget Director that San Jose was obligated to pay Norcal Inc., and its subcontractor, California Waste Solutions, $11.25 million for alleged unauthorized increased labor costs.”
The Grand Jury Report claims that Norcal, the Mayor, and the Mayor’s Policy and Budget Director knew about these costs in advance but that, “the Mayor just did not tell the Council before it voted to approve Norcal as a vendor in October 2000.”
As his press conference, Mr. Gonzales asserted that, “Every decision I make is based on what’s best for the people of San Jose.” He also said that, “Our goal from the beginning has been to make sure that the hard-working men and women who do the dirty job of sorting through garbage by hand every day are paid fair and competitive wages.”
But what do the Mayor’s sentiments have to do with disclosing relevant information to the council?
The Grand Jury Report states that,
“Prior to the Council’s first vote on Norcal in October 2000, the Mayor, his Budget Director and Norcal knew that CWS would have to pay higher International Brotherhood of Teamsters (Teamsters) wages instead of lower International Longshoremen’s Association (Long-shoremen) wages, and that this would cost CWS an extra $2 million or more a year. The Mayor had a duty to disclose this information to the Council, but he did not do so, in apparent violation of the City Charter.”
And the Grand Jury reports that,
“When initially interviewed by the Grand Jury in March 2005, the Mayor and his Budget Director insisted that the Mayor never met with the representatives of Norcal or CWS. At that time, the Mayor conceded that, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, he did not meet face-to-face with Norcal or CWS because he did not want to be criticized about “backroom discussions.” In subsequent interviews with the Mayor and his Budget Director, they admitted that indeed such a meeting had occurred on October 6, 2000, in the Mayor’s conference room, four days prior to the Council’s vote on October 10, 2000 to approve Norcal as a vendor. The Mayor and his Budget Director either had a memory lapse or they did not tell the truth initially. In any event, the Mayor took part in “backroom discussions,” and this conduct was improper and appears to be in violation of the City’s Independent Judgment Policy and/or City Charter.”
Did the Mayor of San Jose take part in “backroom discussions” and deceive the city council, or is he the victim of a biased and misguided Grand Jury probe?
Next week: PART II – The rest of the Grand Jury’s most significant findings.