San Jose mayor calls for "Saigon" investigation
By John Woolfolk
Article Launched: 02/08/2008 06:59:15 PM PST
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed called Friday for the city attorney to assess whether council members violated open-meeting law by privately lining up support in advance of a controversial November vote designating a "Saigon Business District."
"It's important to find out what happened, and then do whatever is necessary and appropriate," Reed said.
Reed canceled a lunch next Wednesday with the governor and requested a report on the matter by the city attorney at that afternoon's Rules and Open Government Committee, which the mayor chairs.
City Attorney Rick Doyle on Friday said, "I don't have any conclusion at this point" as to whether there was a violation of the Brown Act, which could force the council to re-vote on the matter.
The council's 8-3 vote Nov. 20 ignited a furor among many in the city's large Vietnamese community who favored the name "Little Saigon" and believed the council ignored the popular will. They have since called for the resignation of Councilwoman Madison Nguyen, the city's first Vietnamese-American elected official, who proposed the Saigon Business District name for the area, which is in her district.
That outrage has intensified over the past week, with allegations leveled through a lawyer for a Vietnamese group that the council vote violated the state's open-meeting law. The allegations were seemingly bolstered by a Vietnamese television interview aired Wednesday, during which an interviewer asked Councilman Forrest Williams whether Nguyen had sought his support for the Saigon Business District name.
Five days before the vote, Nguyen announced she had backing from Reed, Vice Mayor Dave Cortese and council members Sam Liccardo and Judy Chirco. Williams' backing would have made a six-vote majority.
Williams initially replied "yes" to the interviewer, then explained he had agreed to leave the name up to her.
"She asked for my support; I gave it to her," Williams told the interviewer.
Williams said Friday that it was an informal discussion in August or September, and he insisted he never specifically discussed the "Saigon Business District" name before the vote. Rather, he said, he pledged to support Nguyen generally on creating a Vietnamese business district.
Nguyen also denied any discussion with Williams about the name before the vote.
Reed said he had not seen the TV interview, but after speaking with Nguyen and Williams about it Friday was not convinced there was any violation.
Cortese, however, said the TV interview was troubling.
"Does the video present problems from a Brown Act standpoint? Yes, I think it does," Cortese said. He added that regardless of the legal findings, it threatens "the credibility of the council on any future vote on this issue."
Contact John Woolfolk at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 975-9346.