By Robert Haugh
I’ve always liked Ramona Giwargis of the Mercury News. She’s done some good reporting. Unfortunately, her latest story is full of major errors. She uses false accusations that are not supported by facts.
Giwargis writes that Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor has been accused of violating the city charter by using Banner Public Affairs, a PR firm the city hired, to help her to communicate publicly on 49er issues, like the team’s intentional curfew violations and their opposition to an audit.
I covered the story last week. So I know it well. Here are the major problems with the Giwargis story:
1. There’s no violation of the City Charter. The city council unanimously hired the PR firm to help the Mayor and the city communicate on 49ers issues. And the City Charter says the Mayor is the spokesperson for the city.
2. The people who are responsible for enforcing the charter, the City Attorney and the City Manager, don’t think there’s a violation.
3. The two people who do, Vice Mayor Dominic Caserta and Councilwoman Patty Mahan, are political enemies of Gillmor and major 49ers supporters.
The real problem may be that Giwargis is a San Jose City Hall reporter. She occasionally writes about Santa Clara. When she does, she gets stuff wrong because she doesn’t know the Mission City. And, like her paper, she has a San Jose bias. That’s not unusual. That’s been the case for decades with Mercury News reporters and editorial writers.
But this story was particularly bad. We got to see it evolve when it was changed online. It shows how misleading the reporting is.
Here’s how Giwargis reported about Interim City Attorney Brian Doyle’s take on this controversy — three different times!
On Friday, November 18, the story said:
“Santa Clara’s interim City Attorney Brian Doyle said Friday that he did not authorize the mayor to speak directly with Hillan and didn’t discuss the contract with her.”
That sounds pretty bad and makes Gillmor look guilty as sin.
Then on Saturday, November 19, the story was modified:
“Santa Clara’s interim City Attorney Brian Doyle said Saturday that he never advised Gillmor about the contract and was never asked to do so. He said it was up to the city manager to decide ‘whether it’s appropriate to have contact — and as to whether they gave permission or not.’”
Now, it sounds like Doyle was out of the loop, even though he’s the guy in charge of watching out for charter violations like this.
Then on Monday, November 20, the story was changed again, adding a line:
However, on Monday, after this story appeared online, Doyle wrote to the city council to cast doubt on whether Gillmor’s interactions with Hillan (Banner) were in violation of the city charter.”
Huh? Doyle had to actually write to the city council to correct his statements and her errors, even after three revisions. Not good.
In Doyle’s memo, he didn’t just “cast doubt,” as Giwargis wrote. He was pretty clear: “In conclusion, I am not aware of any facts that a violation of the Charter had occurred. If [Interim City Manager] Mr. [Rajeev] Batra had so found, he had an obligation to surface them immediately and I believe he would have brought them to my attention.”
Wow! The whole story and accusation of wrongdoing falls apart when the city’s legal expert says it’s false. What’s left? Pro-49er councilmembers attacking Gillmor who’s standing up for the residents of Santa Clara.
We reached out to Giwargis: “I stand by the story and my reporting,” was her sole comment.
Like many of you, I hope the Mayor keeps speaking out regardless of what the Mercury News or the Santa Clara Weekly or 49ers supporters say.