Councilman’s past matters, as do the unanswered questions

1. The story, if told forthrightly, could have been triumphant

Councilman Dion Bracco’s story is superbly and unfortunately incongruous.

On the one hand, there is the remarkable story of a life turned around. If he has been clean since his conviction 23 years ago on two felony counts, one for possession of methamphetamine and one for possession of methamphetamine for sale, and has not since violated any legal conditions related to those convictions such as owning a firearm, it’s a triumphant story. Many who use meth never recover, let alone go on to run a successful business.

The other side of the coin, however, is that Dion Bracco never came out and told the truth about his convictions. The felony convictions were anything but “common knowledge.” To believe that two felonies of such a serious nature would remain hidden is surely naive, but more likely politically calculated. Bracco says he never hid anything. It’s just not the truth. He declined to speak to a reporter for two weeks when told repeatedly there was a serious and substantiated story involving him that was about to be published.

Instead he prepared a newsletter that relied on the political strategy “defend, spin and deny where you can.”

2. ‘Defend, spin and deny’ is a poor strategy for a local councilman

Gilroy sets a high standard for public officials, one that requires transparency and forthrightness. The voters should and can, certainly, forgive mistakes – even big mistakes. But the felony convictions are only one part of a troubling story. There is the recent alarm inquiry where Bracco went fishing for dirt on his mayoral opponent Perry Woodward by filing a public records request for information on Woodward’s home alarm records. Trivial, yes, but telling.

What’s not trivial is how many people are dragged into the mud because Bracco didn’t just come out and tell the truth before he ran for public office.

One former Gilroy Police officer, Bob Cooke, who participated in the raid and Bracco’s arrest, ended up becoming Bracco’s Gilroy neighbor. In an interview, Cooke spoke highly of his neighbor and the life turnaround Bracco made. He also said that Bracco’s arrest was common knowledge within the police department.

3. Again, Bracco has declined to answer questions directly

That’s a problem. Bracco’s felony past – uncommon knowledge in the community –  is common knowledge in the GPD and he’s voting on contracts and many issues that impact the GPD. Potentially, leverage exists and, even if it never happened, the question of impropriety arises.

It’s been stated also that Bracco asked City Clerk Rhonda Pellin for an opinion before running for a Council seat about whether or not a convicted felon could serve and that she, in turn, asked the city attorney who gave the go ahead. If that’s true, it hasn’t been verified and Bracco has yet to directly answer whether he asked the city clerk and received a go-ahead from the city attorney.

A councilman and mayoral candidate who hides the past and runs from questions, cannot function as a leader.  

To avoid this situation in the future, the City Council should pass a local election law requiring those who run for city office and those applying for city commissions to state whether or not they have ever been convicted of a felony. It’s ludicrous to require anyone who fills out a job application with the City of Gilroy to answer that question and not have it posed to those running for office.

Moreover, the City Council should seek an independent opinion on whether the language in the City Charter forbids a convicted felon from serving. There is too much self interest at stake for the Council to accept the opinion of the sitting law firm of Berliner-Cohen. We would urge Berliner-Cohen to also endorse a second, independent analysis.

Lastly, the truth, had it been told from the outset, may have hurt Dion Bracco, but it’s unlikely that it would have hurt him as much as his silence has.