Friday, August 29, 2008

Michael Burns' true priority: shutting down free speech

At a time when one of VTA's union has threatened to strike, VTA General Manager Michael Burns instead chose to spend his time supporting an SVLG operative in frivolous lawsuits against Measure B opponents over ballot arguments.

This isn't the first time for SVLG, back in 2006, an operative unsuccessfully sued Measure A opponents for telling the truth.

This time, the arguments against Measure B are sharper and more to the point, summarizing VTA's misdeeds and deceptions over the last 8 years. Getting alarmed by the facts, Michael Burns collected "evidence" on behalf of SVLG in its cases against the opponents and he was present at all court hearings.

At the hearing earlier today, Judge Kevin Murphy threw out all the SVLG/VTA's allegations except two, which were upheld based on technicalities.

The following were challenged unsuccessfully by SVLG/VTA and were kept on the ballot argument and rebuttal:

- VTA does have the worst performing light rail in the nation

- VTA cut service resulting in lost ridership,

- VTA did cut or delay key projects (in the main argument),

- VTA has delayed key projects (in the rebuttal argument),

- VTA is not delivering on prior commitments of adding new transit service.

- John McLemore, who is a former VTA board member, a former MTC Commissioner and former member of the Santa Clara City Council., was eligible to sign the ballot argument.

The two other allegations (whether VTA would save more money than the 1/8 cent tax by improving efficiency, and whether VTA promised full funding for operation) were upheld based on narrow technical grounds. While SVLG and VTA had 10 days to prepare a case against the main argument and rebuttal, tax opponents only had 5 days to prepare a defense on the main argument and did not have any opportunity to submit evidence to defend their rebuttal.

“We succeeded in documenting their falsehoods and in submitting convincing evidence to the court under enormous time pressure," said Margaret Okuzumi, of BayRail Alliance, "Although we weren’t allowed to file evidence in response to their challenge to the No on B rebuttal, evidence that we have that readily rebuts their claims, we were able to fend off two out of three challenges to our rebuttal arguments.”

Other factors may have contributed to the judge's decision to uphold two of the claims:

-Hearing was scheduled on a Friday before the long Labor Day weekend

-Submission deadline from the registrar's office is September 2, right after the long holiday weekend.

-If opponents were to successfully defeat all claims, the judge will have to hear the countersuit against the SVLG operative on filing frivolous lawsuits.

Although inherently unfair, simply upholding one claim on each case on technical grounds allows the judge to close the cases early with no follow up lawsuits.

Given the absurdity of these lawsuits, it begs the question of what is Burns' true priority. "VTA General Manager Michael Burns should spend his time and taxpayer paid resources to fix the VTA, not to assist with lawsuits to shut down free speech that VTA finds inconvenient." said Greg Perry, a former VTA Board member who signed the main argument against Measure B.

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