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Internal Affairs: Dude, where's my debt ceiling? Timothy Geithner surfs at Half Moon Bay

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Nothing seemed particularly unusual about "Tim," a father seeking a surf lesson at Half Moon Bay's Open Ocean Surfing. He was professional, polite and patient with his two children, owner Dave Alexander recalled.

Yet it did seem curious that he had a small squadron of well-dressed friends watching every move.

"I drove them around, looking for waves, to a couple different beaches -- while this other car followed us," Alexander said. "I figured they were business associates."

Then his surf student, an athletic Stanford freshman named Elise, explained: They were Secret Service men. And her surfer-dude dad was U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

"I was floored. I thought: Oh my God, you're kidding," said Alexander. In town during President Barack Obama's Bay Area visit, Geithner "probably just wanted to get away. The family was very, very nice."

As the secretary and his son rode nearby head-high waves on longboards, Alexander helped Elise improve her technique. And the Secret Service kept watch, no doubt enjoying their most scenic assignment of the day.

"I knew my trailer was safe, and wouldn't get broken into," Alexander joked.

But they were ill-prepared for sharks. "Thank goodness," he said, "there weren't any."

The Woz has a cause: Let students have a voice

IA loves reader feedback. Especially from the Woz. Yep, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wrote in after reading an item last week about razor-thin parcel tax defeats at the polls for two Bay Area school districts -- even though they both earned more than 65 percent of the vote.

Many tax measures need a two-thirds majority to pass -- something the Woz became frustratingly aware of years ago, when he repeatedly paid for mailers in Cupertino but narrowly ended up on the losing end of parcel tax proposals.

Add that two-thirds hurdle to the fact the vast majority of the very students who benefit from parcel taxes aren't old enough to vote, and, well, the Woz wrote: "This is not right. It's not equality. It's not fairness.

"The elderly get a vote when it comes to issues that affect the elderly. Farmers get a vote when it comes to issues affecting farmers. But students aren't counted in the votes that determine money for our schools.''

IA never figured Woz for a family values guy, but ...

"When I started expressing my thoughts about this issue over 20 years ago, I spoke of family values being underrepresented in our voting system. Although I'd consider myself a liberal, many friends and people close to our local schools berated me, saying that family values was a Republican issue. It may be, but I say that you do what's fair first and forget about supporting a particular 'side,' right or wrong.''

'Freedom Fighters' or not, council members are on wrong side for NAACP

The NAACP of Silicon Valley/San Jose had planned to give a couple of its "Freedom Fighter'' awards for community service Saturday night to San Jose council members Sam Liccardo and Madison Nguyen during a dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. But at the last minute, the organization notified the two politicians that -- whoops, sorry -- it wasn't going to honor them after all.

The reason? Liccardo and Nguyen had signed on to Mayor Chuck Reed's emergency pension reform measure more than a week ago. At City Hall, the move was widely seen as an acknowledgment by the NAACP of labor's opposition to the Reed measure.

"When they signed a state of emergency to take that action, the NAACP looks on that as a form of trying to bust unions,'' said the Rev. Jeff Moore, the president of the NAACP chapter. "Apparently, they're deeply engaged in budgetary issues,'' said Liccardo, who says he may go to the dinner anyway.

Union's protesters saved from expulsion by budget cuts they were fighting

IA's hunt for sad irony led to Santa Clara County budget hearings last week. Waving banners urged county leaders to "Chop from the Top" and standing room only throngs of purple-clad, bullhorn-wielding SEIU Local 521 workers protested looming blows to the social safety net that are likely to result in layoffs for hundreds of social workers, hospital staff and other service providers.

When a fire marshal entered the chamber, IA hears, the following conversation ensued:

Crowd member: Are you going to kick us out, keep us in order?

Fire marshal: Normally we would, but they just cut down our staff and I'm the only person here.

Eligibility worker Ruben Garcia, an SEIU chapter leader, stated he knows the county faces a $219.6 million budget shortfall that it is required by law to address. But he added: "I absolutely do not believe that our county, in the heart of Silicon Valley, has no option other than to tell our neediest families that they are on their own."

SEIU members are rallying for their clients -- among them kids in foster care, the homebound elderly and homeless families. But their own livelihood is also at stake as the heated budget talks continue.

The county executive is seeking $75 million from labor organizations, to be gained from contract concessions in current and upcoming negotiations. Those concessions are being counted on to balance the final fiscal year 2012 budget -- along with the elimination of 534 county jobs.

And the countdown has begun. Supervisors vote on a final budget in a series of public meetings beginning June 13.

A local legal legend makes his closing statement

Barry Portman, the federal public defender for the Bay Area, has been unleashing his lawyers on the U.S. Justice Department for nearly 25 years. And now one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes players in the region's federal court system is stepping aside.

The 72-year-old Portman informed court officials earlier this year that he would not seek another term as public defender, opening up the crucial post for the first time since 1987. Portman said last week he hopes to move on by the end of this year. Candidates for the job have until May 27 to throw their hats into the ring.

The next federal defender, who runs offices in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, will have large shoes to fill. Portman is an institution, cheerily throwing elbows at his adversaries in the U.S. attorney's office with a casual style that often belied how seriously he took the threat of government power in the courtroom.

And speaking of power, few had the ear of the area's federal judges as much as Portman, who made sure any concerns about federal prosecutors found their way to a chief judge's desk.

But as much as anything, Portman will be remembered as the district's historian, an unrivaled raconteur with a quick wit. Asked Friday about retiring, Portman joked, "I'm an artifact. I'm getting the uneasy feeling that everybody feels they need to water me to make sure the bloom doesn't come off."

Portman has spun off some of the Bay Area's top criminal defense lawyers, from Cris Arguedas, now on the Barry Bonds legal team, to local legend John Keker, the former special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra case who has represented clients from Google to Frank Quattrone. And one of his sons, Daniel, is now a deputy public defender in Santa Clara County.

Candidates for the $153,000-per-year job are already lining up to replace Portman, including three of his protégés in the San Francisco office -- Steve Kalar, Shawn Halbert and Ron Tyler.

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