Swirling questions on alarm records

Councilman Perry Woodward

Gilroy City Councilman Dion Bracco has refused to answer questions as to why he filed a public records request last month seeking information on mayoral opponent Councilman Perry Woodward’s private home security system. Bracco did issue a 200-word statement after failing to return repeated phone calls.

In that statement, Bracco claims he did not initially know who owned the home for which he requested the alarm information and has refused to reveal the identity of the person he said pushed him to submit it.

Bracco states he filed the request to investigate a homeowner who “complained or resisted payment of the city’s fee for registering a home.” His wife, Christy Bracco, worked part-time as a records technician for the Gilroy Police Department but reportedly left about a month ago when the department hired a full-time clerk.

The home in question, located in Eagle Ridge, belongs to Woodward, who according to police records obtained by the Dispatch, paid his $20 alarm registration fee in October – about six weeks before Bracco filed the request.

Bracco said in his statement he was trying to “find out the real story,” but Woodward said any claims Bracco has made are bogus, and that his opponent has broken a promise to run a clean campaign.

“Is he out making sure everybody has their dogs licensed too? It’s the same kind of reasoning. It’s silly,” Woodward said.  “I sat down over a year ago with Dion Bracco, and I looked him in the eye and I shook his hand and said, ‘Let’s run a clean campaign.’ And until now, it’s been a clean campaign.”

Woodward said Bracco hasn’t called to offer an explanation for filing the request, though the two could have a chance to discuss it today as the Council’s annual, two-day goal-setting session begins at 9 a.m. in the Gilroy Police Department’s community room.

“I haven’t heard a word (from Bracco),” Woodward said. “I’ve had a number of people in the community call me to the effect of, ‘Well, that’s sure weird.’”

Councilman Bob Dillon said he’s also received calls from confused residents wondering why Bracco filed the request.

“They’ve said, ‘What’s going on here?’” Dillon chuckled.

Bracco submitted a public records request Dec. 7 to City Clerk Shawna Freels for any billing records, correspondence and false alarm reports on a security system at Woodward’s Eagle Ridge home, according to documents obtained by the Dispatch, which include e-mail strings between City Hall and GPD officials.

Bracco also reportedly didn’t offer an explanation to City Administrator Tom Haglund or Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner, who met with Bracco the morning after he filed the request to discuss its possible ramifications, Haglund said.

“The request did place us, from our professional standpoint, in a bit of an awkward position,” Haglund said.

Councilman Peter Leroe-Muñoz questioned Bracco’s decision to file such a request.

“It’s hard to see what the value that would be in terms of getting that kind of information,” Leroe-Muñoz said. “As elected officials, we have to hold ourselves to a very high standard in that, when we get information, we’re using it in the interest of the public.”

Mayor Al Pinheiro said he has spoken with Bracco about the request, but Bracco didn’t say much as to why he filed it.

“There’s really not much I can say. I don’t really understand what it’s all about,” Pinheiro said. “I don’t know why any Council member would need that information.”

Christy Bracco, Dion Bracco’s wife, had worked as a part-time records technician at GPD until the department hired a full-time clerk about a month ago, Haglund said. She was trained to do the work and had come back on a “temporary assignment,” until the position had been filled. It was agreed she would leave the position when the new technician started, Haglund said.

When asked if Christy Bracco may have fed records information to her husband to prompt the request on Woodward’s home, Haglund and Turner both said they had no knowledge of that occurring.

Woodward, however, said, “The number of people that have access to that information you could count on one hand, and one of them is Christy Bracco, so go figure.”

Haglund and Turner met with Bracco and Woodward respectively at separate times Dec. 8 – Bracco in the morning and Woodward later that afternoon. It was necessary for the two high-ranking officials to get involved, Haglund said, to prevent city staff from being placed “in a position of gathering information in a political context.”

Woodward and Bracco are the only two candidates who have publicly announced they’re running for mayor.

If Woodward had discovered months from now that Bracco had filed a request on his home and officials didn’t bring it to Woodward’s attention, Haglund said it could cause Woodward to have less confidence in city staff.

“This is what we explained to Councilmember Bracco when we met with him in the morning,” Haglund said.

After meeting with Haglund and Turner, Bracco rescinded his records request, a little more than 24 hours after submitting it on Dec. 8. Haglund said Bracco didn’t reveal why he filed the request nor who advised him to do so. When asked if he told Bracco to cancel the request, Haglund said, “That was a conclusion that he drew.”

Haglund said he’s “not sure” why Bracco filed the request, but that Bracco’s explanations mirrored his vague responses to the Dispatch’s questions Monday.

“What I read in the Dispatch was kind of consistent with what he indicated to us,” Haglund said.

Haglund and Turner patched together a second, afternoon meeting at Woodward’s home, away from City Hall for convenience purposes because Haglund expected to be on the city’s west side around the 1:30 p.m. when they had planned to meet. He said he was trying to “squeeze” Woodward in-between other appointments and wasn’t trying to keep him from visiting City Hall.

Woodward paid a required $20 fee to register his alarm last October, four months after the city’s revised alarms ordinance went into effect – which Woodward voted against in July 2011 (a revised version from the July 2010 ordinance) because he said it would “add another layer of bureaucracy.” Woodward also opposed the original ordinance in 2010.

“Because I didn’t pay my $20 for four months? Is that what this is about?” Woodward said.

Residents with alarms installed after August 2010 are required to pay a $35 fee, according to the ordinance.

There is no mention of late fees in the ordinance, though owners of unregistered alarms potentially face fines of $195 for every false alarm to which police respond. Owners of registered alarms are given a free pass on their first two false alarms before the $195 penalty kicks in, according to the ordinance.

The Council adopted the city’s alarm ordinance in July 2010, but voted to temporarily halt it six months later “pending further review,” according to an email from Chief Turner. The Council adopted a revised ordinance in 2011, which went into effect in August.

Turner said the GPD is wary of revealing information on private security systems because a resident or business owner’s safety could be compromised.

“I think that it’s for their individual privacy. If someone has an alarm system, I don’t think it should be public knowledge,” she said. “It’s for their protection. I think that (revealing alarm records) gives sort of an unfair advantage to potential burglars having access to that.”

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