The Santa Clara Weekly: Ethics Chair Vacations with “Lobbyist”?
Ethics Committee Chair Davis Vacationed with Alleged “Lobbyist” Between Meetings with Her City Hall Meetings
By Carolyn Schuk
Santa Clara City Council Ethics Committee Chair Debi Davis vacationed with alleged All Vision lobbyist Patricia Mahan last May, in between her City Hall meetings with the outdoor advertising company. Davis also attended the May 27 closed session Council meeting by phone from Mahan’s Montana ranch.
All Vision and its representatives met with Santa Clara city officials 13 times between March 15 and July 30 concerning the electronic billboard contract the City signed with the company in 2015. Mahan is listed on City officials’ calendars – including Davis’ – as an “attorney” before June and “resident and attorney” subsequently.
Since August, Mahan – an attorney, former Mayor and current City Council candidate – has been accused by political opponents of being an unregistered lobbyist for All Vision.
Santa Clara’s lobbying ordinance exempts attorneys engaged for the specific business under discussion – the subject of their employment – from registration requirements (not lawyers engaged in matters of employment, as was misstated in an Aug. 12 complaint to the Council about Mahan).
“We didn’t talk legal stuff,” at meetings, the Mercury News quoted Davis saying. “They explained to us about the policy and the project – it wasn’t a legal thing to me. It was lobbying.”
The controversy about Mahan’s role began last March, when All Vision was on the City Council agenda in order to authorize the next steps – the “entitlement process” – of a digital billboard project west of highway 101.
After a discussion that regurgitated what had been said in 2015 when the Council first approved the contract – with then-Council Member Lisa Gillmor opposing it – Davis made the motion to continue it at the next meeting, which carried unanimously. But to date the subject hasn’t been brought back.
All Vision employs three high-profile local political consultants – Pete Carillo, Ed McGovern and former Santa Clara Council Member Kevin Moore – as well as Attorney Mahan. Davis met with All Vision four times, more than any other Council Member. Three of those meetings included Mahan. At the May 23 meeting Davis requested additional information and follow-up meetings, according to City emails.
Four days after meeting with Scharfberg and Mahan, Davis drove to Montana with Mahan, where she was a guest at the vacation home owned by Mahan and her husband in Big Fork, Montana. Davis and Mahan split the cost of gas for the 2,400-mile round trip drive, but Davis was certainly a houseguest, said Mahan, and didn’t pay rent or any other bills that a renter might be expected to. Davis attended the May 27 Council meeting by phone from that address, as the agenda at santaclaraca.gov shows:
CITY COUNCIL STADIUM AUTHORITY
SPORTS AND OPEN SPACE AUTHORITY
May 27, 2016
1:30 PM CLOSED SESSION
City Hall Council Chambers
Council Member Davis will be attending remotely from
13845 Pine Street, Pine Fork, Montana 59911
Pictures posted on Facebook over the last two years show that May wasn’t the first time Davis was a guest at Mahan’s ranch.
Until this election the pair appeared to be close friends, and were almost always together, including on vacation. The split became public after their July 29 meeting, and after Mahan announced that she was running for Council Seat 4.
City records show no gift reports from Davis. All elected and appointed California public officials are required to file Form 700 Schedule D for gifts worth $50 or more.
While an exception is made for gifts “made because of an existing personal or business relationship,” the exception to the exception is gifts from lobbyists. Public officials are prohibited from accepting any gift worth more than $10 from a lobbyist or lobbying firm. The penalty for failing to file on time can be a fine up to $5,000 per violation plus late filing penalties.
Attack on Mahan Politically-Motivated?
During a discussion at the Oct. 11 City Council meeting about whether the lobbyist ordinance was clear enough or needed refinement, Mayor Lisa Gillmor said, “I don’t think the ambiguity is in the ordinance. I think the ambiguity is in our enforcement.”
She followed that by saying she wanted to refer the enforcement question back to the ethics committee, whose other members are Council Members Dominic Caserta and Kathleen Watanabe. Along with Gillmor, both endorse Mahan’s opponent, Tino Silva, for Seat 4.
Past president of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League and Parks & Recreation Commissioner, Silva, with SCYSL VP Gabe Foo, is a founder of the unregistered Stand Up for Santa Clara political committee.
Since last summer, SUFSC has been attacking Mahan venomously, most recently with a Monopoly “get out of jail free” card featuring Mahan’s face.