San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is in hot water with local ethnic leaders after a heated exchange with a black city administrator raised eyebrows during a public meeting last week.
The local San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP sent a letter Monday to Liccardo and every member of the San Jose City Council demanding a public apology from the mayor to Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey. They posted the same letter on Facebook.
Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the NAACP’s San Jose chapter, said Hughey was subjected to a “subtle form of microaggression” and “displaced blame” from Liccardo. Moore called the mayor’s treatment of Hughey unprofessional and demeaning during a recent City Council meeting.
“Ms. Hughey, because she is black and female, should not have to experience at the hands of a white male, an aggressive encounter that appears to me to be no more than a bias-filled interaction,” Moore wrote in the letter. “I’d like to describe to you the miasma that surrounds black managers in our everyday work lives and help you understand how unprofessional and aggressive behavior toward African American employees can erode their productivity in insidious ways.”
May 4, 2020 Mayor Sam LiccardoSan Jose City Hall200 E Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113 Re: Ms. Rosalynn…
During last Tuesday’s meeting, Liccardo, who looked visibly upset, questioned Hughey about the city’s backlog of inspections and permits for construction projects in San Jose. Construction sites citywide have been shuttered and projects placed on hold amid the county’s shelter-in-place order, which began in mid-March. The order was extended again a day before the council meeting — on April 27 — to last until May 31.
Liccardo said he heard the county would soon lift restrictions on construction, which happened a day after the council meeting, allowing dozens of stalled projects to resume. The mayor insisted the city needs to eliminate its backlog of inspections and permits to allow thousands of construction workers to return to work quickly once the restrictions lifted.
But Hughey told Liccardo that the county’s public health order prohibited most construction projects from resuming, which is why the city inspections haven’t been done by her department.
“We want to make sure that we are adhering to the county order,” Hughey said during the meeting. “It’s our understanding that because construction is supposed to be ceased, except for those few exceptions, that we should not be sending inspectors to those sites unless the site is completely done.”
But Liccardo shot back that San Jose could have still been doing inspections — despite workers not being able to build the projects — because the city is tasked with regulatory duties, such as permitting and inspecting projects, not building them.
“What I’m routinely hearing from folks who are trying to build is we can’t even get an inspection because the county is telling us no… and that’s what I’ve heard four or five times now from Rosalynn,” Liccardo said, adding that the union leaders are telling him that thousands of local laborers can’t get a paycheck right now.
“I’m frustrated we’ll have the green light go on and a lot of very angry people who aren’t going to be able to work and get a paycheck because they can’t get an inspection or permit from us,” he added.
As the mayor’s frustration grew, Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness jumped in to defend Hughey and the planning department staff. Harkness told Liccardo that inspectors are stretched thin after being forced to adjust to digital inspections and grappling with a shortage of personal protective equipment.
“I take very seriously the charges you put for us, but we are on the edge of our capacity,” Harkness said. “People are working well beyond the 40 hours a week, in some cases, well beyond 80 hours a week, often without additional compensation. We are doing our damned best to respond as best as we can.”
Although Liccardo could not be reached for comment Tuesday, he publicly apologized during the City Council meeting. The mayor said it’s his job to hold the city accountable to the community and the mixed messages about inspections impairs people from getting back to work.
“Like others, we have been getting calls from lots of folks saying we can’t get permits or inspections… and when the light turns green, we’re not going to be able to get people back to work,” Liccardo said. “It’s my job to communicate effectively and if my tone ever interferes with the substance of what I’m saying, I haven’t done my job. If my tone was too direct with you, then I apologize.”