PINOLE -- Festering animosity among City Council candidates and their supporters came to a boil at the past two council meetings, as the two camps traded barbs while denouncing negativity in politics.
Recently retired longtime Pinole Chamber of Commerce official Ivette Ricco seeks to unseat one of two incumbents, Peter Murray or Roy Swearingen, on Tuesday. Ricco blasts the "status quo" and offers herself as a leader who can steer Pinole out of its economic slump. The incumbents tout their tough decision-making during the budget-balancing act of the past four years, during which the city work force shrank by more than one-third.
At Tuesday's meeting, Ricco touted her leadership skills, and about a half-dozen supporters wearing Ivette Ricco T-shirts praised her personality and savvy. But Jeff Rubin of Concerned Citizens of Pinole, which endorses Murray and Swearingen, portrayed Ricco as someone more adept at driving away business, citing her and the chamber's opposition to a plan for a commercial-retail building in 2007 and 2008 at what is now the Community Corner, and to several planned restaurants at Tennent and San Pablo avenues, including Tina's Place, which ended up opening anyway.
"She opposed virtually every new business that wanted to locate in Pinole," Rubin said. He then accused Ricco of plagiarism for articles about business development districts on her website and under her byline that he said were lifted verbatim from other sources; Ricco has said previously that links to other websites showed she was not claiming authorship.
Rich Voisey, a Pinole fire captain and former vice president of the firefighters union, Local 1230, chastised the council for allowing the "King of Toxicity" -- an apparent reference to Rubin, who has tussled with the union -- to attack him in the past while City Attorney Ben Reyes "sat on his hands."
"Quite frankly, the majority of you are puppeteered by (Rubin)," Voisey said, adding, "I'm not going to let him run me out of this community -- he damn near did."
"I'm so mad, I can hardly stand it, because I'm so tired of toxicity in this community," Voisey continued.
The latest public flare-up began at the Oct. 16 council meeting when resident David Ruport, an attorney and Ricco backer, challenged the legality of a campaign mailer that showed Swearingen standing in front of the city seal on the Welcome Wall on Pinole Valley Road. Councilman Phil Green, a Ricco backer, waved the flier, accusing Swearingen of a misdemeanor and asking whether it carried a maximum penalty of six months or a year in jail.
A Contra Costa deputy district attorney opined days later that Swearingen did nothing wrong.
On Tuesday, Reyes said Swearingen had done nothing illegal, because there was no intent to deceive, nor had Ricco, who stated on her website that she was endorsed by the Pinole Police Department and "the Pinole Fire" and also displayed patches of the two departments containing the city seal, with hyperlinks to the departmental pages on the city website. Reyes said Ricco's use of the seal and the hyperlinks was "a little bit more problematic"; she has since changed her site to reflect endorsements by the police and firefighters' unions and eliminated the hyperlinks to the city website and the patches of the police and fire departments, and Reyes pronounced the issue resolved.
Reyes noted that his report had cost $4,000 in legal fees to produce. In the ensuing public discussion, Rubin suggested that Ruport and Green split the cost.
Rubin then took Green to task for his accusation against Swearingen two weeks earlier, and pointed out that a company -- Bay Area Fire -- owned by Green had pleaded guilty in 1983 to bilking the U.S. Navy.
"Phil needs to resign," Rubin said.
Green said he never tried to hide his past and that he had to make very tough business decisions back when he was in his 20s, and called Rubin "nothing but a big bully."
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner