The Santa Clara County assessor has received a warning for violating political rules about mass mailings at the public’s expense.
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) sent a warning letter Sept. 7 to Assessor Larry Stone for violating the Political Reform Act when he mass mailed an annual property assessment report—exceeding the limit of 200 mailers featuring a public official paid with taxpayer dollars during the course of an election.
Mullissa Willette, an SEIU 521 union boss who also works as an estate administrator for the county, filed the complaint in 2018 when Stone was campaigning for reelection, though he ran unopposed. SEIU 521 is the county’s largest union, representing more than 12,000 employees including janitors, health care workers, social workers and more.
An FPPC spokesperson told San José Spotlight the complaint took nearly five years to resolve due to staff turnover and delays from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint said the mass mailing would not have been a violation if everyone who received the report by mail had requested a copy. Stone told San José Spotlight the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office had sent residents a letter asking if they’d like to start receiving their assessor reports electronically. Those who did not reply to the letter continued to receive the report by mail, justifying the violation, the FPPC letter said.
“We agree, we were in violation,” Stone told San José Spotlight. “We (now) limit ourselves to 200 mailings a month. That’s the limit.”
The warning letter to Stone said because of his “good faith effort” to remain in compliance, no prior enforcement history and the FPPC’s desire to reduce its annual case carryover, no further action would be taken.
Stone said the assessor’s office has since been in compliance with the mass mailing provision of the Political Reform Act for more than two years. He said his office continues to push for residents to get their property assessment reports electronically—a more cost-effective way of getting information to constituents.
“More and more people are doing that as people, particularly older people, become more tech savvy,” Stone said. “They’re asking for that.”
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