Rich Tran had no political experience before being elected as Milpitas’s mayor two years ago. His first term has had some rough spots, and we explore how he has adapted to the job.
Q: At the April 4 meeting in 2017, what were you trying to accomplish by saying you wanted your city manager’s performance review to be put on the public meeting agenda?
A: I can’t say too much about it because there’s current litigation. If you look at what happened there on the dais, it is really a policy battle that’s happening when you’re listening to myself and the city attorney. It’s like a rugby match and I’m in a scrum with the city attorney. I got so much love for Chris Diaz, our city attorney. He might be listening to this–
Q: Hello, Chris Diaz, Esquire!
A: Yeah! I’m scoring my freedom of speech and my democratic rights to place an item on the city council agenda. I’m definitely following the rules and doing things appropriately. I was looking to do a performance evaluation of our former city manager.
Q: I get that, but your line of inquiry made the city attorney visibly anxious. He’s saying, “as a council you can do whatever you want. I’m just saying as your attorney, I think it’s a terrible idea legally.” What about that was unconvincing to you?
A: I felt like I wasn’t getting the truth so much as I deserved it. I wasn’t looking to discuss anybody’s performance in public.
Q: What’s the distinction between that and placing the performance review on the agenda though?
A: I want the item on the agenda so we can decide if we’re gonna do the performance evaluation or not. That’s it.
Q: On October 3 of last year, your council was considering a censure policy for council members. When Councilmember Bob Nuñez said that he had concerns about people following the rules–and singling you out specifically–how did you feel about that?
A: We never had a censure policy here in my city. Not in its 64 years. Councilman Nuñez wanted to bring one about so that in the event that I screwed up or something, he can censure me. Everybody has concerns about me, Michael. They call me the “outspoken mayor.”
Q: What does that mean?
A: Because I talk about things. I don’t accept things that shouldn’t be accepted. Councilman Nuñez was concerned that I was communicating with the community too much. The funny thing is, no one’s ever been censured. It’s like he’s waiting for me to slip somehow.
Q: It’s interesting because they did have the opportunity to, but they instead chose to send you a letter of disapproval chastising you for your conduct outside of the meetings–and that was all four council members. You said, “that goes to show Milpitas has the dirtiest petty politics in all of Santa Clara County.” What, from your point of view, is the root of the problem?
A: It’s an election year. I’m an independent leader. It’s definitely sad. You read the rebuke that was sent my way–the residents are pissed off that the city council’s playing these silly games.
Q: I get that they may not like you because of who you are. Can you think of some mistake you made as mayor that you would be willing to say is a mistake?
A: Definitely. I don’t have a great background in politics. It was only four years ago that I moved back to my hometown from Manhattan. I was going to NYU for my master’s degree. I had no job, no car, I was living out of the back of my uncle’s house–
Q: Sorry, are these all the mistakes?
A: No, I’m just telling you the lead-up. Getting into politics, I didn’t really know much. You asked me what my mistake was: I think to be misunderstood.
Follow Mayor Rich Tran on Twitter: @mayor_richtran