Santa Clara’s Charter Review Committee held its first meeting on Aug. 10, with committee opponents voicing their objections loud and clear.
Several residents spoke during public comment, all against the idea of changing the way Santa Clara chooses its police chief and city clerk.
“We should be able to elect our police chief and they should be a resident of the City of Santa Clara,” said Pillar Furlong. “We elect our officials, our council.”
“It stimulates confidence in the police force knowing that he represents us,” said Preston Metcalf, Executive Director of the Triton Museum.
Metcalf countered the argument that Santa Clara is the only city in the state of California that elects its police chief with the argument, “We’re the only city in California that’s continuing to do it right.”
Many opponents are vocal Santa Clara residents that often speak at City Council meetings or are involved in other committees. Former Parks and Recreation Commissioner Burt Field, current Planning Commissioner Nancy Biagini and Chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission Dana Caldwell all spoke in favor of the elected police chief and city clerk system.
But the most vocal of all speakers was Board of Library Trustees member Lee Broughman. She spoke up several times.
At two points in the meeting, City staff corrected Broughman when she stated that the police chief and city clerk were elected in November 2022. Both positions were elected in 2020.
When staff provided Broughman with the vote count each candidate received in 2020, staff pointed out that both officials ran unopposed. Broughman then stated a logical fallacy, arguing that since each unopposed candidate received more than 30,000 votes, citizens obviously supported the current process.
Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee
The roles of chair and vice chair were filled in the first meeting.
Jeff Houston of District 5 was selected as chair by a 4-3 vote. Chiragkumar Patel from District 2 was selected as vice chair by a 5-2 vote.
The positions of chair and vice chair were approved by a 6-1 vote. Committee member Satish Chandra of District 1 was the lone no vote.
Charter Committee Covers Rules and Procedures
Since this was the first official meeting of the Charter Review Committee, City staff outlined the rules and proper procedure. A portion of the meeting was dedicated to outlining the Brown Act – which regulates how committee members can meet with one another and when they can discuss committee business. The Public Records Act was also discussed.
Staff laid out the history of the elected police chief and city clerk positions and how the requirements for each position have evolved through the years.
There were a few clarifications made during the presentations. Staff members clarified that “council” includes the mayor. They also said that police officers report directly to the assistant police chiefs.
All of the City staff’s presentations are attached to the agenda as post-agenda material.
Charter Review Committee Goals Outlined
The committee is working on a tight timeline. The goal is to have recommendations presented to the City Council at its Nov. 7, 2023 meeting. Prior to the recommendations, the committee must get as much public input as possible.
“The goal is to provide an open forum for respectful inclusive dialogue, the presentation of best practices and thoughtful deliberation of varying perspectives prior to ultimately making your recommendations to the city council next time,” said City staff.
The committee must decide if it the City should maintain the status quo and continue to elect the police chief and city clerk. If it decides to recommend a change in the City charter, the committee would have to determine who appoints the police chief and/or city clerk – the City Council or the City Manager.
Staff emphasized that the committee must make separate decisions for each office.
No matter which way the committee leans, it also has the ability to recommend the qualifications and eligibility for the positions.
At-large committee member Joyce Davis asked if it was possible to have these positions report to the mayor.
City staff pointed out that Santa Clara is a “strong city manager” form of government meaning that most of the City’s business goes through the city manager. However, staff also said there is nothing preventing a recommendation that the police chief and/or city clerk report to the mayor.
Patel asked if it was possible for another option, such as a hybrid approach where the City Manager recommends three names and the City Council selects one. City staff suggested that the committee make a recommendation and then staff would look at the legal parameters on how to make that recommendation work.
Charter Review Outreach Methods and Agenda
To ensure that the public is actively involved in the process, the Charter Review Committee agreed to several outreach methods. There will be hybrid meetings at convenient times along with a set meeting schedule. The City’s website will have a dedicated page that includes resources such as agendas, reports and meeting minutes.
The City will hold two public hearings on the issue and will have the flexibility to hold a third if necessary. It will also use all City communications channels to get the word out.
The first public hearing will be held on Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers. The second public hearing will be on Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Central Park Library.
There will be a second committee meeting on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. so the committee can begin drafting its recommendations. A third and final committee meeting will be held on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. to finalize the committee’s recommendations. Both of those locations are to be determined.
The committee will also use a community survey to gain more input. The survey is expected to be released sometime next month, with results arriving before the final committee meeting.