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Dog Bites 

Wednesday, Jul 3 1996
Give the Dog a Bone
In the age of Willie Brown, the city's political machine impresses its will with positive reinforcement as much as with punishment. Take Steve Phillips' case. An up-and-coming school board member, Phillips thought it was his due last fall to run for the Assembly seat Brown was vacating. But Brown wanted Supervisor Carole Migden to take that seat; so, in a pre-mayoral race meeting with other local machine-turners, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Brown doused Phillips' ambition. Phillips was none too pleased, but he did cooperate. And last week he reaped the benefits of soldierly obedience. Hosting a June 26 all-star fund raiser for Phillips' school board re-election bid: Pelosi, Brown, Democratic money man Henry Berman, and Steven Swig, stepson of protocol chief Charlotte and son of late hotelier Mel. Serving on the "honorary host committee" for the event: just about every major establishment pol in town. Welcome back to the fold, Steverino.

Insubordinate Clause
San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne thinks district attorneys -- and other city officials -- should be able to fire their deputies if they have the temerity to oppose the DAs' re-election. At least that's the argument she's planning to use to rebuff a federal suit filed by former Assistant District Attorney Bill Fazio. He says his free speech rights were trammeled when his boss, then-DA Arlo Smith, fired him for entering the 1995 race. (Their tiff paved the way for current DA Terence Hallinan.) Smith's legal defense cites several U.S. Supreme Court cases that say that critical statements made by an official's subordinate on the campaign trail can be so disruptive to public business that it's constitutional to fire uppity deputies. Toward this end, City Attorney Renne has subpoenaed every local television and radio station for tapes of the DA's race -- looking for critical statements made by Fazio. Fazio's lawyer is chuckling at the strategy, because Smith originally contended he fired Fazio only after the high-profile deputy tried to get a promotion in exchange for dropping out of the race. Fazio denies this. And his lawyers are sensing desperation in the opposite camp. Says Nancy Fineman of Cotchett & Pitre: "It would really take away the electoral choice in voting if incumbents fired anyone who challenged them."

"The Bill's in the Mail"
You know those big Trinitron scoreboards at Candlestick Park? Sony owns them, see, but the city has the right to tax them because they're on public property. The money is right there, literally in front of your eyes. Seems kind of hard to miss.

But miss it the city did. For four years the city Assessor's Office forgot to bill Sony for the big boards. And now San Francisco has had to file tax liens against Sony Corp. of America to get those bucks back where they belong.

According to records maintained by the city Recorder's Office, the city filed four unsecured tax liens against Sony on March 31 of this year. The liens were filed in public records on June 21. For 1992, Sony owes the city $48,793.73; for 1993, it's $34,268.85; for 1994, it's $41,858.85; and for 1995, it's a hefty $72,962.72.

"They missed it," explains Anthony Bacigalupi in the city's tax office.
"I don't think these staffers know what they're doing," says a member of the Assessor's Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Sometimes nobody picks things up, and it just gets lost."

By George Cothran, Ellen McGarrahan


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