Attempt by Pete McHugh seen as politically motivated
San Jose – Santa Clara County Supervisor Pete McHugh hasn’t formally declared his intention to run for county assessor next year, but his campaign against incumbent Larry Stone got off to an unofficial start this week.
With an eye on Stone’s property development interests and fundraising activities, McHugh tried to change county law to prohibit elected officials from certain kinds of outside employment and force them to disclose all of their fundraising efforts.
Both efforts were defeated by McHugh’s board colleagues. Supervisor Don Gage said he shouldn’t have to reveal fundraising he does for his church or his grandchildren’s schools.
“I raise funds for my church and that’s my business,” Gage said. “I think this is politically motivated. If the assessor has a problem that’s between the assessor and the public.”
The laws would have applied to just eight representatives – the five supervisors, the assessor, the district attorney and County Sheriff Laurie Smith, who argued against the proposal to limit outside income. Stone was traveling on county business and could not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
McHugh called the rules “good government,” but said after the meeting they were aimed primarily at Stone, whom he said abuses his position to raise money for the Democratic Party. McHugh believes that Stone’s authority over assessments results in a perceived quid pro quo when the assessor asks for political donations.
“There is an implied power in his office to solicit donations. He has a power to influence assessments and settlements of appeal,” McHugh, who is also a Democrat, said after the supervisors’ meeting. “There is a perceived conflict of interest in his business as a developer and I would like him to concentrate on his duties as assessor. If he does, I may not run.”
Stone said Wednesday that adequate protections are already in place to prevent misuse of his office. He doesn’t do appraisals and doesn’t have access to the system where assessments can be changed.
“Those are the fire walls I have in place to ensure my integrity,” Stone said. “Pete McHugh has been a supervisor for eight years and he’s only ever told me I’m doing a good job. “What is it right now, when he considering running against me, that brings this issue to bare. It’s totally politically motivated.”