SUNNYVALE -- Patrick Meyering had been a duly sworn member of the City Council here for exactly 90 seconds when he stood before the happy conclave that had come to celebrate his inauguration and began to speak.
Taking note of the warm tributes others had paid to four departing council members, Meyering said, in effect, good riddance: "We didn't hear about literally the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions that they took from the Sunnyvale City Employees Association, and how during their eight years on the council the salaries of those employees doubled." For good measure, he added that his predecessors had pocketed thousands more from developers, then signed sweetheart, no-deadline contracts with the same developers.
That speech still reverberates through the not-so-sunny vale of tears that the city council chambers here have become since Meyering arrived 32 months ago. During that time, he has:
After receiving close to 9,000 votes in his council race, Meyering hasn't felt sufficiently threatened by the recall effort to do much about it, though he has attracted one supporter who is vigorously defending him, setting up a website that compares Meyering to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Meyering's true believers view him as a much needed bulwark against a council too cozy with special interests.
"He has a stubborn and persistent streak," says Jean Lee, a 55-year resident of Sunnyvale, "persistence so strong that it often infuriates people who disagree with him. I think he's someone who could not be bought, not in a million years."
Unlike other city councils, which typically feature droning discussions about "infill" and "EIRs," Sunnyvale's bi-weekly meetings are filled with what one councilman called "performance art." Mostly, this involves Meyering's incendiary attempts to throw the machinery of local lawmaking -- well-oiled by political action committee money -- into chaos, while other members rebut, reject and ridicule virtually every claim he makes. His council foes decry his endless volley of charges that they are a bunch of crooks as a distraction, while Meyering counters with a question: "Why are these people so sensitive?"
A self-employed real estate lawyer who twice ran unsuccessfully for city council before being elected, Meyering ran a classic outsider's campaign, railing against the influence wielded by "downtown developers," whose requests for zoning variances are rarely rebuffed and have reshaped the city's profile.
"The word has gone out," says Meyering, who does legal work for homebuyer and sellers, "that anything goes with the Sunnyvale City Council." One development -- the now topped out LinkedIn headquarters building -- required numerous variances to existing zoning regulations. It's a prime example of a project the council majority eagerly embraced for widening the tax base and providing jobs, over Meyering's bitter opposition.
Most challengers run against the political power structure they are threatening to change, then slip into a comfortable incumbency of going along to get along. But Meyering descended upon the very political body of which he was now part, flaying it like a flesh-eating bacteria with very public accusations of wrongdoing.
Interim city attorney Michael Martello accused Meyering of revealing information from the council's closed meetings, in violation of the Brown Act, and soon found himself jousting with the councilman. In one letter, he characterized Meyering as "dishonest," "deceptive" and "delusional."
Meyering's refusal to sign the council's code of ethical conduct -- which prevents members from criticizing each other or staff in open session -- liberated him to speak freely on any subject that happened to infuriate him. That propensity led his council brethren, in turn, to censure him, with Mayor Jim Griffith finally declaring, "Enough is enough" -- a phrase that the recall team turned into its campaign slogan.
Like a "brothel"
Meyering's furious rejoinder during the censure debate was to accuse the members aligned against him of turning the council into a "brothel." More than a year later, he does not back away from the remark. "When you take money and then turn around and do the desired act," he says, "that's what happens at a brothel."
Relations on the council became so strained that a team-building workshop was convened. The workshop was an attempt to find some sliver of common ground where Meyering and the majority could meet, if only rarely, and it's no coincidence that the person hired to lead it was Rick Kirschner, author of the book "Dealing With People You Can't Stand." Kirschner prepared for the session by watching Sunnyvale's council meetings online and became spellbound by Meyering.
"It did appear that Pat was constantly running against the council he was serving on," he said during an interview from his home in Ashland, Oregon. "You don't influence policy by attacking people; you influence policy by persuading people." At a third, unmediated attempt several weeks ago to cool council passions, Griffith noted that members need to observe parliamentary procedure, and Meyering shot back that doing so would be "inconsistent with a couple hundred years of American democracy."
Former councilman Christopher Moylan, a leader of the recall effort, says Meyering has damaged the city's reputation and that his contrarian votes follow no apparent guiding principle. "He votes no on everything."
Griffith says Meyering's oft-repeated charge that the council continually voted itself raises ignores a city charter mandate that required the raises. In 2011, Griffith authored the ballot proposal which voters approved that reduced raises from 5 percent to an increase tied to the Consumer Price Index. For his part, Meyering claims to be unfamiliar with any such provision, saying, "People who assert that the charter has that requirement, might be invited to identify where the provision is." It is contained in Section 603, under the heading Compensation. Meanwhile, Meyering never declined the raises or proposed changing the charter.
"So, is it true?" the mayor says of the sweeping charge. "Yes. Is it honest? No."
But to supporters like Jean Lee, Meyering is "just what we need here in Sunnyvale, where the character of neighborhoods is being sacrificed to powers that want to build, build, build with no attention to the effects on traffic, schools, air quality or water supply."
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004. Follow him at twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit.