Councilmember Ash Kalra violated rules on elected officials using city resources to do campaign work. In a March 20 letter sent to the rest of the council and Mayor Chuck Reed, Kalra used city letterhead and his council email account to push for support of library parcel tax Measure B—not the other Measure B.
“I am confident that you are excited as I am to support the upcoming Measure B in support of our libraries,” Kalra wrote. “I have offered to collect endorsement forms from the elected officials here on the 18th floor. I hope you can fill out the form and return it to Kimberly Hernandez in my office by noon on Monday, March 24, 2014. I will then deliver the completed forms to Mary McClane with the Save San Jose Libraries 2014 campaign.”
He added: “Thank you in advance for completing the endorsement forms promptly. I am glad we have found a Measure B that we can all agree on!”
City Attorney Rich Doyle, who did not return a call for comment, reissued a memo on Wednesday that seemed to be a subtle reprimand of Kalra’s actions. Doyle reiterated what campaign activities are allowed by including a memo that was first sent out in late January. The first of this year’s two elections is June 3.
Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Kalra admitted he shouldn’t have sent the letter.
“The second the city attorney’s office informed me I agreed and thought it made sense,” he said. “I misinterpreted the rules.”
Kalra added that he viewed the library parcel tax as a nonpartisan race. A council vote to put the tax on the ballot passed with unanimous support. Kalra told San Jose Inside that he sent the letter at the request of the library campaign.
“But it’s not on them, because I could have just used a non-office email,” he said.
Doyle’s memo from January clearly lays out what is and is not allowed during campaign season.
“City officials can be held personally liable for authorizing the improper expenditure of public funds for campaign purposes,” the memo states. “City officials are held to a ‘standard of due care’ which means that an official who fails to exercise ‘reasonable diligence’ in authorizing the expenditure of public funds is subject to liability.”
It’s not clear if Kalra will be subject to any penalty, but he did not attempt to sidestep responsibility.
“If you mess up, say, ‘Hey, I messed up,’” he said.
Almost three years have passed since Kalra was arrested for driving drunk, which he addressed with media just a day after the incident.