The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

2023 Charter Review Committee Hears from Police Chief, City Clerk

The Aug. 24 meeting of the Charter Review Committee was an opportunity for the committee and the public to hear from and ask questions of the City’s elected police chief and city clerk. Both City Clerk Hosam Haggag and Police Chief Pat Nikolai were present.

The public comment was fairly evenly split between those who wanted the system to change to appointed positions and those who wanted to maintain the system of electing the two roles.

Wes Mukoyama, a Santa Clara resident and named plaintiff in the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the City said when there’s only one candidate on the ballot it becomes a referendum instead of an election. He wanted to know why the City did not have a police commission and said it’s hard to hold a police chief accountable if he’s the only one running for election.


“I do think Santa Clara has had its share of corruption in the police department and I also feel that the police officer’s association has strong ties to the police chief in many ways and the police chief has no accountability to the public, to the City Council, to anyone. He can do whatever he wants,” said Mukoyama.

Community member Burt Field said his main concern was why now. He wanted to know why the City should spend the money on a costly election now instead of tacking it onto the presidential election ballot in 2024.

Community member Julie Turner said it would be “unwise” to give up the right of election.

Richard Konda of the Asian Law Alliance called the current system of electing the positions “antiquated” and said they need to be changed.

Jeremy Schmidt, the president of the Santa Clara Police Officer’s Association, said having an elected police chief is part of the reason Santa Clara is a “destination agency” for other officers.

Community member Gary said he supported putting an item on the ballot, saying it was an “educated decision” based on information and studies he shared with the committee prior to its meeting. (Those documents can be found on the City’s website under the 2023 Charter Review Committee heading.)

At the end of the public comment, Field took to the podium again to call out the “negative stuff” he heard and ask for “decorum,” saying it sounded like they were “attacking” people.

Haggag responded and said he did not feel he was attacked and while he may not agree with the comments made against him, he appreciates them.

City Clerk’s Comments During Charter Review Committee Meeting

Haggag had the opportunity to speak about his role within the City and answer any questions the committee or the public had about that role.

In his opening remarks, Haggag pointed out that when he first ran for the office, it was a six-way race. At that time, the City Council adjusted the position from full-time to part-time.

Haggag outlined his role within the City as a record keeper, keeper of the City seal and overseer of Santa Clara’s elections.

He admitted that he’s split on whether his position should be elected or appointed. Haggag believes that if it were a full-time position, then it would “absolutely” need to be appointed. He said the city clerk holds a big responsibility and it’s too risky to put that role into the hands of someone not qualified.

There are certifications for city clerks. Assistant City Clerk Nora Pimentel, for example, has a Master Municipal Clerk certification. When asked, she told the committee her certification includes “rigorous” and “robust” training on ethics.

Haggag openly admitted that he does not have any of the certifications, but says in his part-time role, that’s not essential. He believes part of his role is to offer “checks and balances.”

“I don’t answer to the council and so I don’t fear retribution,” said Haggag. “It’s different if somebody is appointed. There may be a small grain of fear in the back of their mind that if I cross somebody on the council that I may lose my job. I don’t ever have that fear because I don’t answer to the council.”

Committee member Joyce Davis asked Haggag what he believed the qualifications of a city clerk should be. Haggag, again pointed to the difference between part-time and full-time, saying if it’s full-time, the person should be a certified municipal clerk.

In terms of what should change if the charter were amended, he suggested defining the role better, whether part-time or full-time and if full-time, the City Clerk should have the highest level of certification.

One community member criticized Haggag for listing election expenditures for each campaign on the City’s website in 2020, breaking with tradition. The speaker pointed out it’s public information that people can look up if they’re interested and that putting the information on the City’s website felt biased.

Committee Chair Jeff Houston said in speaking to other city clerks, reports of expenditures are often noted, reviewed and filed but not dug into for fear of unconscious bias.

Haggag defended his decision, saying he is biased in favor of transparency. He thought the process would just make it easier for more community members to find and read the information.

Haggag parted by advising the committee to take the personalities out of the equation. He said this decision needs to be “durable” and “last the test of time” far beyond the longevity of the person currently in the position.

Police Chief’s Comments During Charter Review Committee Meeting

Nikolai echoed the sentiment during his public comment. He said public safety is his priority and not any special interest group because he answers directly to the public.

“My only agenda is the safety of the citizens of Santa Clara,” said Nikolai.

He offered counterpoints to the key arguments against an elected police chief system.

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Our department is well run; it is well respected. We are a destination agency for lateral officers throughout California,” said Nikolai.

He also said the “mythical” nationwide search to offer better candidates, didn’t change anything in several local justice departments who ultimately ended up hiring from within.

To the argument that Santa Clara is the only city with an elected chief, Nikolai said that’s because Santa Clara is a unique city.

“If we did things like everybody else, would we have our own amusement park? Would we have our own electrical utility? Would we have a world-renowned university? Would we have an NFL stadium? Not necessarily,” said Nikolai.

Nikolai was asked if there was anyone in a position of leadership who could run for police chief if/when he retired. He said while both of his assistant police chiefs do not reside in the City, he can think of at least four or five members of his command staff who do.

Nikolai was asked who the assistant chiefs report to and his reply was succinct.

“They are in my chain of command,” said Nikolai.

City staff was not as clear in clarifying the chain of command. City staff said the assistant chiefs are appointed by the city manager, but on a “functional level” they are within the police department and the police chief oversees the police department. The “reporting authority” of the assistant chiefs is to the city manager’s office and he “directs” the work of the chiefs and the police officers.

Other Committee Business

Due to a scheduling conflict, the committee voted to move one of its scheduled meetings from Oct. 11 to Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.

To find all the documents pertaining to the 2023 Charter Review Committee, visit the City’s website at From the City’s homepage, click on “Our City” and then select “Government” and “City Committees” before selecting the 2023 Charter Review Committee.

The website will include background information, a meeting schedule as well as video and information packets for each meeting.

The next meeting of the 2023 Charter Review Committee is Thursday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Central Park Library. At that time, the committee will hear from some appointed police chiefs and city clerks about their roles.


  1. Buchser Alum 8 months ago

    Thank you for this report on the meeting. I did not attend or watch this meeting at all and your writing on it reads straightforward.
    If this matter is put on a ballot for public election will it be a special election or will it be an item on the next national election which will be the presidential primary election early next year? Is there more cost to putting it on this ballot rather than the election that we will have in the fall of next year?

    • Erika Towne 8 months ago

      Hello Buchser Alum,

      It is my understanding that the Charter Review Committee is simply designed to make a recommendation to the City Council about whether or not this item should be placed on the ballot and if so, what the ballot wording would be. I do not believe there is anything binding as to when it could be placed on the ballot, meaning it could be a special election or part of the presidential election in 2024.

      That said, at its meeting in July, the Council designated $180,000 for a March election, which indicates that this would be its target date ( California’s Presidential Primary is set for March 5, 2024 so it may be that the goal is to include this item with the ballots when the Presidential Primary is held. However, I cannot positively say one way or another.

      In terms of cost. There are set costs that a City must pay to the County Registrar of Voters regardless of if a measure is brought forth in a special election or as part of a larger state or national election. Obviously, a special election would cost the City more (though I am not sure how much more) simply because it would be an entire election performed for that City and that City alone. However the difference is not something I know off the top of my head and may be better researched with the Registrar of Voters since the cost likely fluctuates depending on the factors involved.


      • Buchser Alum 8 months ago

        Thank you for your reply. I have the same understanding as you when it comes to the commission making a nonbinding recommendation to the city council though I would be very surprised if the commission recommends something the city council majority would vote against.
        I ask my question because I am wondering if the money set aside for election cost is due to the cost of putting anything on the ballot of an election that will be held no matter what such as the national presidential primary election next March. If this is a normal cost then I think that is important to highlight because I have seen some public comments that seem to be assuming this issue will entail special costs with a special election or due to being super rushed.
        I assume there has been no plan or even discussion of it being voted on in a special election which would cost many times more than one hundred and eighty thousand dollars.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


You may like