An international incident of sorts arose over an Ethiopian flag raising at San Jose City Hall to honor the African country's New Year, which begins on Sept. 11. And it wasn't over the unfortunate coincidence with what is now a day of infamy and national mourning in the U.S.

Rather, the dispute was over whether or not the city raised the right green, yellow and red Ethiopian flag.

Yohannes Mesfine, an Ethiopian-American businessman who lives in Palo Alto, says it didn't. The banner that went up lacked the national emblem -- a light-blue disk with a yellow pentagram symbol -- which the country adopted in 1996. That's the flag that the U.S. State Department recognizes.

Nonsense, says Abebe Hailu, who represents the Ethiopian American Council in San Jose. He said the plain tricolor "heritage flag" that went up is just as acceptable, arguing it doesn't change with the political winds in their native country. A city resolution allows San Jose to recognize that flag.

Mesfine -- who attended the flag-raising ceremony on Monday, the day before Sept. 11, out of respect for the victims of 9/11 -- was so put off that he alerted Mayor Chuck Reed and city Councilman Sam Liccardo, both of whom attended the ceremony along with Hailu and dozens of local residents of Ethiopian descent.


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With no reaction from either city official, both of whom noted the city's resolution, Mesfine contacted the Ethiopian Consulate General in Los Angeles. An email to Reed from the consulate general's office thanked the mayor for honoring the occasion but pointed out that any flag that doesn't contain the emblem is illegal under the Ethiopian constitution.

City officials say similar debates have surfaced involving the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam and the Pan African flag.

"My decision to support the flag-raising has nothing to do with any feeling that I have toward any regime or government," said Liccardo, whose district includes the Ethiopian American Center and many of its members. "It has everything to do with our solidarity with a community of people living here in our city. What's far more relevant to me is the identity chosen by our community, and not that chosen by any foreign entity."

San Jose Public Works Director Dave Sykes said the city will evaluate the issue before whatever version of the Ethiopian flag goes up next year.

"We want to be respectful of the concerns and address them appropriately," Sykes said.

The mayor can be formidable in court, too

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed hasn't said whether he will contest the ticket he was issued last Tuesday for allegedly not signaling in a right-hand turn lane. In his career as a lawyer, he did real estate and business deals rather than appear as a litigator in court. But as a young attorney more than 30 years ago, Reed defended himself in traffic court -- and won.

It seems that the young Reed was ticketed for speeding in Redwood City in an old Toyota of questionable quality. The cop who nailed the future mayor had used a radar gun not far from the Redwood City courthouse. Convinced that he did not reach the speed he was accused of, the methodical Reed spent time measuring distances and calibrating the acceleration of his Toyota. The result? Ticket dismissed.

Call it innocence by clunker.

Secretary's vocabulary has

lots of words -- but not 'failure'

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan toured Silicon Valley last week to network with tech leaders and drum up support for the Obama administration's extensive education reforms. At a dinner Tuesday at Stanford University, the energetic Duncan was outlining the work ahead -- to improve teacher preparation and retention, reduce the 25 percent dropout rate, get parents to push for reform, create better tests, choose recipients for competitive federal grants and expand preschool. Someone in the audience asked if he was worried about November's election.

"I am not worried at all," came the immediate response. "Failure is not an option."

Most are happy with cleaning up graffiti. Most ...

Public employee unions and their City Council sympathizers howled when San Jose outsourced graffiti abatement to a private enterprise, arguing that the city would soon be awash in tags while company owners laughed their way to the bank. A graffiti spike that also forced the city to budget more for the contractor's cleanup costs fueled the outrage. But city parks officials who oversee graffiti abatement indicated at a council committee last week that the program with contractor Graffiti Protective Coatings is popular with the public.

"The city has seen overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community regarding GPC's quality of work and timeline," acting parks director Julie Edmonds-Mares said in her report.

The report quotes residents gushing with satisfaction over the cleanup: "Great quality work!" "5-star work!"

The remarks' authors aren't identified, but one of them had placed a complaint about some Doerr Park graffiti via the city's smartphone graffiti-cleanup app at the request of former Councilwoman Linda LeZotte.

"The project was done quickly," wrote the person who summoned the cleanup crew, "but I can't respond to the quality of work since I'm back at the office!"

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Tracy Seipel, Scott Herhold, Sharon Noguchi, John Woolfolk and Paul Rogers. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-975-9346.