Researched: Hysterical Ranting and Loony Accusations from Gillmor



Publish Date: June 21, 1993  Section: Editorial

THE city of Santa Clara is about to waste $100,000 on a pointless study of its convention center for one reason: A milquetoast city council can’t stand up to the empty, vicious bluster of two of its members, Lisa Gillmor and Mayor Eddie Souza.

While budget shortfalls are forcing cuts in library hours and youth programs, a majority of the council decided to shell out for a management and financial audit of the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce, which contracts with the city to run the convention center. This despite the fact that annual, independent audits have turned up zero evidence of problems.

The trouble started in December, when Souza and Gillmor questioned an earlier council decision to expand the center. Both began to criticize the whole operation.

In January, Souza said he suspected the chamber of embezzlement but would investigate it himself, since he didn’t trust the cops. (Now he says he never mentioned embezzlement, but he hasn’t had much luck erasing people’s memories.) In April, Gillmor took up the cudgel with a Star Chamber interrogation of chamber Director Betty Hangs that lasted six hours.

Gillmor says the city is losing money on the center. The city staff has spent hundreds of hours researching issues raised by her and Souza, to no effect. The duo still eked out a council majority to go for the management audit.

Cities don’t run convention centers for direct profit. The benefits are mostly indirect — sales taxes, hotel taxes, prosperity for local businesses — all hard to document precisely.

Operating costs for Santa Clara’s center don’t seem out of line, although the chamber could do better at documenting its performance. For instance, San Jose knows how many hotel rooms conventioneers use because the hotels tell the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Santa Clara should have the same arrangement with its hotels instead of having to estimate stays.

Is the Chamber perfect? No. Does it need a $100,000 dissection? No way.

We can’t begin to guess the motives behind this witch-hunt, but we can say what to do about it.

Councilmen Jim Ash and Tim Jeffries voted with Souza and Gillmor for the audit, but that was before the cost was certain. If one of them grows a backbone by Tuesday night, the unnecessary expense could be lopped out of the budget before it passes.

This audit proposal grew out of hysterical ranting and loony accusations. That’s no way to run a city.

Copyright (c) 1993 San Jose Mercury News