A Murky Future

It's CoCo time at the Mercury News, chutzpah time at Berkeley City Hall, Ken Starr time at Peralta College, and Christmastime for Feeder himself.

Reporters at the San Jose Mercury News are a little on edge these days about their corporate parent making the Merc have a more cooperative relationship with its sister paper, The Contra Costa Times, in the name of cost savings. First, execs merged the two papers’ Sacramento bureaus. Then they announced the papers would split duties covering Bay Area sports teams. “There is more convergence than many of us would like,” says Merc reporter Dan Reed of the arrangements.

Earlier this month, the “convergence” continued when KR corporate-masters axed Merc publisher Chip Visci and replaced him with George Riggs, a longtime Times man. In fact, Riggs has been at the CoCo Times since the days when conservative crank Dean Lesher owned the paper. Knight Ridder bought the Times in 1995 and kept it nonunion. The Merc, however, is a union paper, so Georgie will have to adjust for that when crunching the numbers. He also might want to reconsider changing the personalized plates on his vehicle. Riggs showed up at the San Jose mothership last week in his Jaguar and its “CC TIMES” plates.

The same week the publisher-shuffle was announced, Merc sources say metro editor Bert Robinson accidentally sent out an e-mail to everyone in editorial meant only for a couple of his San Jose colleagues. The missive included an attached memo from executive editor Susan Goldberg. “It would be best,” Robinson wrote his friends, “for you not to mention to her that you saw it.” Goldberg’s memo proposed a variety of changes to “stanch the circulation and readership decline of the Mercury News.” One idea: Make the front page more local, and eliminate local news as a separate section. Instead, the “front” page (at least graphically) for local will begin on page three — which is, coincidentally, the same layout as the Knight Ridder paper headquartered in Walnut Creek.

The accidentally leaked memo caused some concern in the newsroom about the paper’s future. “We’re becoming The Contra Costa Times,” groused one veteran Merc scribe — although when it comes to local news, the Merc would do well to emulate the more aggressive Times. Reached by phone, Goldberg cautioned that her memo was just a brainstorming document. “I don’t know if we’ll do any of these things,” she said.

The biggest question on everyone’s mind after reading Goldberg’s memo was: Who the hell is “Merky the Newshound”? At the end of the memo, Goldberg promised to tell her colleagues all about Merky during a slide show. But she wouldn’t tell Feeder anything about the newspooch. “I’d tell ya,” she said, “but then I’d have to kill ya.”

Zionists v. Berkeley
After going on right-wing radio and writing Fox blowhard Bill O’Reilly, Berkeley’s Sanne DeWitt says city officials are finally giving her permission to hold an antiterrorism rally in Civic Center Park on January 16. She says police and other city officials were worried that the rally would be perceived as a “pro-Israel event” and would draw unruly counter-demonstrations. “How they had the chutzpah is beyond me,” says the feisty four-foot-ten septuagenarian, who was arrested and deported by the Nazis as a child in Germany.

DeWitt, chairwoman of the Israeli Action Committee of the East Bay, is bringing the charred remains of a Jerusalem bus bombed by a Palestinian suicide bomber almost a year ago. Eleven people died in the attack. Recent precedent could understandably give city bureaucrats cause for concern. The Berkeley Intifada (i.e. anti-Zionist protesters) forced former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel a speech at the Berkeley Community Theatre four years ago. Police complained to the Daily Cal at the time that extra security for the Netanyahu event cost the city as much as $30,000.

DeWitt says when she first applied for the event permit in September, city officials wouldn’t grant it until she obtained two $1 million insurance policies — one for the event and one for the bus. The police department also suggested she move the event to a less central location such as Cesar Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina. “They wanted to give me Scott Peterson Park,” she says.

So DeWitt took to the airwaves, going on Jeff Katz‘ show on KNEW 910 AM to make her case. DeWitt says that a day later, she got a call from someone in Mayor Tom Bates‘ office assuring her she’d get a permit. Katz took credit on the KNEW Web site, saying the city granted the permit “after receiving hundreds of calls and e-mails.”

Permit hearing officer Manuel Hector says the city routinely asks event promoters to obtain a $1 million insurance bond, adding that city officials weren’t reluctant to give DeWitt a permit because of the event’s theme. Rather, she failed to include a mandatory security plan with her original application. She has since done so, Hector says.

The bottom line is that it looks as if DeWitt will get her rally over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. She says she has invited Mayor Tom Bates to speak at the rally, but he has — surprise, surprise — not yet accepted the invitation.

Peralta Goes Ken Starr
Last year Feeder reported on how Peralta Community College District officials went Ken Starr on popular College of Alameda anthropology teacher Dr. Boatamo Mosupyoe. It was one of the most shameful episodes in recent Peralta history, which is saying something for a dysfunctional place like Peralta.

It all started in mid-2002 when the college let the teacher go under murky circumstances. Then-interim college president Juan Vazquez concluded that Mosupyoe, a South African native who fled apartheid, had fraudulently sold the district fake African artifacts for $2,375. When Mosupyoe had the temerity to protest and filed suit, then-Chancellor Ronald Temple sicced the district’s hired attorneys on the teacher, investigating her life as if her last name were Clinton. The San Francisco law firm tapped by Peralta — Curiale Dellaverson Hirschfeld Kraemer — hired investigators in South Africa to examine not just Mosupyoe’s business dealings, but also her personal life. Mosupyoe, who now teaches at CSU Sacramento, told Feeder that the snoops visited relatives and even went to the gravesites of her late husband and son, who died under the apartheid regime.

One year ago, the district settled with Mosupyoe for $200,000, half of which was covered by Peralta’s insurance carrier, United National Insurance Company. There still remained, however, the issue of who was going to pay for the legal tab. And what a legal tab it turned out to be: $576,130 (for what began as a dispute over $2,375). That previously unreported figure has recently surfaced in the district’s lawsuit against United National and the claims administrator, a suit that school trustees were briefed about behind closed doors last week. United National is refusing to cover the bill, arguing that the district went totally overboard fighting the case, delving into Mosupyoe’s divorce and financial and medical records and even threatening her with deportation or criminal prosecution. Peralta’s attorneys, meanwhile, argue that the high legal fees were justified because the school district faced major financial exposure in the case. Apparently they didn’t consider the district’s exposure to bad publicity if the media got wind of their extreme tactics.

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