Saturday, October 09, 2004


Martini leaving Sonoma County Alliance?

The Press Democrat reported last month (9/17, "Taft plans $3 million winery") that Taft Street Winery plans to move from leased quarters in Sebastopol to a new winery in Windsor. Santa Rosa Councilman Mike Martini is a co-founder and CEO of Taft Street.

Bob Norberg's story said,

"The proposed site is a 28-acre eastside parcel now surrounded on three sides by residential development and destined for housing in 20 to 25 years, according to city officials. The land has 10 acres of 100-year-old zinfandel vines and another five acres of vines that are 30 years old. Taft Street already buys the grapes from the vineyards for its wines.

The land is owned by Santa Rosa developer Joe Keith of Cobblestone Homes. The winery project will be a joint venture between Cobblestone and Taft Street. ... As part of the proposal, a new Taft Street Winery LLC will be formed and Cobblestone will have an ownership interest, Martini said."

The story wasn't a scoop for the PD. The North Bay Business Journal ran the story 7/26, and I commented following that story below.

Norberg's scoop was about Martini's other private employment--as Executive Director of the Sonoma County Alliance--and he buried that at the end of the story. So far, PD City Hall reporter Mike McCoy hasn't picked it up.

Norberg reported,

"Martini, a Santa Rosa city councilman and former mayor, said he is stepping down as executive director of the Sonoma County Alliance, a business educational forum, to work full time as Taft Street's chief operating officer."

The SCA hired Martini two years ago, when he was Mayor of Santa Rosa. The PD reported 7/23/02,

"Until last year, Santa Rosa Councilwoman Sharon Wright was executive director of the alliance for 12 years, including three years when she was mayor. There was no conflict deemed then, Wright said.

She said it must be clear that 'they have hired an individual with skills in management. They haven't hired a mayor or councilman.' ''

"The alliance, a powerful countywide coalition of business, labor and agricultural groups, has a political aim to help craft public policy on local issues, including transportation and housing. 'We got an individual with great connections,' said alliance president Greg Hurd. 'Having someone like Mike, with his background and experience and public policy arena, it's nothing but pros for the alliance.' "

The story said,

"Hurd said some members were concerned that Martini might not be able to represent both the city and a countywide political action group. Some issues may require Martini to step away from the alliance to be able to act freely as a mayor ... Alliance leaders are checking with city attorneys and state election officials to ensure Martini's jobs can mix. 'We recognized that perceptions were going to come across, like "the good old boys hired Mike" ' Hurd said."

A PD editorial commented 7/24/02 ("Martini's hats"),

"Anyone worried that people are losing faith in government might contemplate the news in Santa Rosa: Mayor Mike Martini is going to work for a countywide political coalition of business, labor and farm groups. He will be mayor of the city and the executive director of the Sonoma County Alliance.

Considered from a distance, there is a certain surreal quality to this arrangement, as if the same person can serve as referee and quarterback in the same football game.
Mayor Martini: So what is the view of the Sonoma County Alliance on this issue?
Executive Director Martini: I'm glad you asked... "

"Whether he is speaking to voters or to the county Board of Supervisors, people will know that Martini wears two hats, and they will wonder which is having the greater influence this day. City Attorney Brian Farrell will need to identify the parameters of potential legal conflicts -- so that the city doesn't blunder into embarrassing and costly lawsuits.

Legal conflicts or not, Martini's new job sends the wrong signals about government independence."

Wright had been an outspoken advocate for growth and development, as both SCA Executive Director since 1986, and Councilmember/Mayor since 1992. But the City Attorney told the State Fair Political Practices Commission on Martini's behalf that the SCA would pay him $70,000 a year to be no more than an administrator--not a policy maker or lobbyist.

It's reasonable to wonder why Martini--then CFO at Taft Street--took a second job with the SCA in the first place, as well as why he's leaving now. It may be pertinent that Martini boldly ran for Congress against Lynn Woolsey in the March 2002 primary, and was crushingly defeated--reportedly, about the time he and the SCA were talking about the job.

We can speculate that the SCA directors paid Martini $140,000 for his two years as Executive Director, not only for his administrative expertise--but perhaps, in return for his quixotic run against Woolsey, and whatever influence he could bring to bear without being openly in conflict of interest.

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