Pick your poison

Superintendent Raymond attracts sleaze, city council campaigns leave bad taste

Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond broke the law a couple weeks back when he sent emails to school employees encouraging them to vote for the Measure Q and Measure R school bonds.

At least that’s what lawyers for the group Fair and Open Competition say. Well, “group” is putting it strongly. It’s a campaign front for Western Electrical Contractors Association Inc., who oppose the bonds because the district wouldn’t agree to ban project-labor agreements. Long story.

Anyway, they say that Raymond’s email, sent through the school-district email system, amounted to an advocacy piece, even though Raymond didn’t explicitly say “Vote for measures Q and R.”

He did come awfully close, though—going on at length about the benefits of the bonds and directing employees to a Sacramento Bee editorial in favor of the measures.

In a letter to the district’s Board of Education, the lawyers demanded that Raymond, “immediately cease and desist” with the emails.

District spokesperson Gabe Ross said it’s true that district employees can’t advocate for the passage of a particular measure—at least not on the taxpayer’s dime. “We can, however, provide factual information about the impacts should a potential measure pass or not pass,” he said.

Last month, a California State University, Monterey Bay instructor was dinged for using state email to urge students to help pass Proposition 30. Raymond’s note was less blatant. “Of course, these are delicate items, and we work closely with legal counsel to ensure we are in compliance with laws,” Ross added.

So, you see, when Raymond sends an email to his employees telling them, “The cost of failing to make a move in the direction of the future is huge,” he’s not telling them to vote for measures Q and R; he’s just telling them they’ll be sorry if they don’t. That, or he’s warning school employees against time travel; Bites isn’t sure which.

By the way, the law firm that called Raymond out for electioneering is Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk.

As in Thomas Hiltachk, who is the attorney for everything sleazy in politics around here—Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor initiative, Meg Whitman, Proposition 23 (which would have rolled back California’s greenhouse-gas laws), stuff like that.

Hiltachk is really not the kind of guy we want mucking around in our schools. So, instead of trying to be cute and seeing how close they can get to the legal line without crossing it (and then crossing it anyway), maybe the district ought to just leave the lawyers out of it and tell Raymond to leave the campaigning to his off time.

Elections are always something of a pick-your-poison sort of proposition. And each candidate in the Sacramento City Council District 4 race has one or two qualities that are a bit hard to swallow—at least when it comes to the power of money in City Hall.

Candidate Steve Hansen is technically not registered as a lobbyist. His job title at Genentech is “regional manager.” Still, it’s his job at the firm to direct money to political candidates, and its lobbyists report to him. He talks a lot about transparency. In fact, when SN&R endorsed him for the seat, it even said, “He’s big on transparency.”

But as any editor knows, it’s important to “show don’t tell.” When Bites recently asked Hansen how he felt about the mayor’s use of nonprofits to receive unlimited and undisclosed donations (see “K.J.’s dark money machine,” SN&R Bites, September 6), Hansen didn’t seem to get it.

He said he would have the city attorney review such donations for potential conflicts of interest. But that does no good, because there are no rules on such conflicts. A better, more transparent approach would be full disclosure to the public. (By the way, K.J.’s nonprofits: another Hiltachk client.)

Hansen also bristled at questions about endorsements and campaign contributions from special-interest groups like the police union and chamber of commerce. Not a good sign, and a little different from being “big on transparency.”

But at least Hansen’s made some supportive noises about tighter limits on contributions from political action committees, and he supports creation of an ethics commission and a redistricting commission. Hansen’s opponent in the race is Joe Yee, and Yee’s support for an ethics commission seems lukewarm at best. Like Hansen, Yee is voting no on Measure M, which would establish a citizen body to look at a variety of government reforms. And he’s gotten a lot of money from unions and real-estate interests, as well as being the favorite of the local Democratic party machine—making him the “establishment” guy in many eyes. So, pick your poison.