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2023 Charter Review Committee Holds First Meeting

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.”

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“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.

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13 Comments
  1. CSC 7 months ago
    Reply

    According to CensusReporter.org, just 4% of Santa Clara County’s residents are 80+ years old. Lee Broughman appears to be one of the city’s few cherished octogenarians, so it was nice of the city staff to take the time to help correct her inaccuracies. We all have aging grandparents and/or parents and know how that can go sometimes.
    .
    Preston Metcalf seems to either be (a) oblivious Santa Clara’s police department has the highest percentage of officers convicted and fired for crimes and the highest rate of shooting and killing unarmed persons with mental illness or (b) he is somewhat aware of those publicly available facts and finds them somewhat admirable.
    .
    Burt Field, Pilar Furlong, and Dana Caldwell all claim to be long time city residents of sixty, fifty, and forty-three years respectively but none shared their historical knowledge of 1994 when then-sitting Police Chief Frank Vasquez and former Chief Manny Ferguson both called the election of their position “unbelievably medieval” and proclaimed it “creates divisiveness within the police department.” Officers who committed crimes or serious policy violations had the unwavering support of their employee union that would threaten a police chief’s job at the ballot box if disciplinary action was served upon subordinate junior officers. That’s because up until the year 2000, the City of Santa Clara did not require a candidate for Chief of Police to have any law enforcement education, training, or experience at all. That’s when retired Chiefs Ferguson and Vasquez kept their fight alive in support of Measure I which would finally change the city’s charter requiring police chief candidates meet minimum requirements set by the State of California for elected County Sheriffs which was at least two years law enforcement experience and completion of higher education. The first steps to a more modern managed police force were finally taking place because 88.1% of voting Santa Clarans supported Measure I.
    .
    Despite those newly elevated requirements to be a police chief, the same divisive toxicity identified by past police chiefs persisted in Santa Clara’s police department for more than 20 years. At the center of the two decades division was subordinate officer Patrick Nikolai who convinced approximately 104 of SCPD’s 130 peace officers to vote no-confidence in the police chief Mike Sellers. Among Nikolai’s 104 mutinous officers were dozens who would go on to be investigated and confirmed of serious policy violations and/or arrested and convicted of crimes – Philip Cooke, Brian Gilbert, Kiet Nguyen, Thomas Leipelt, Kenneth Henderson, Clay Rojas, Daniel Burde, and Mike Seadler just to name a few. In their nostalgic trip down memory lane, neither Burt, Pilar, or Dana reflected on SCPD’s high percentage of convicted officers and they spoke not a word of the millions of dollars paid out to members of the community for injustices committed by Santa Clara police officers to include a recent $125,000 from the city and current Police Chief Patrick Nikolai in his effort to elude trial and silence claims of systemic racism brought by a former police sergeant.
    .
    Also joining the voice of those other five commentors was Howard “The Hot Dog Guy” Gibbons who claims he is still haunted from an incident when teenagers allegedly robbed his hot dog cart. If the incident happened as he described, it’s understandable he would still sense trauma but just not sure what it has to do with a community electing or appointing a police chief as any of the police officers who responded to Mr. Gibbons’ incident would have been scrutinized and appointed, not elected. Batting commentor cleanup at the inaugural Charter Review Committee meeting was Nancy Biagini who lost a city-council race five years ago and currently sits on the city’s Planning Commission. Biagini tried to hit the ball out of the park by vociferously stating she previously worked with multiple Human Rights Commissions and reviewed numerous National Studies that support opinion of an elected police chief being the best way to reform a police department. “It’s that simple”, stated Biagini, who did not cite specific references. Well then, in a timely manner we expect it should be little effort for Biagini to bring forth the reports and studies to substantiate her claims.
    .
    Social and political change sometimes takes a while especially when opportunity only comes once every four years. We’ve seen that recently when residents were provided the chance to amend the City Charter and overwhelmingly did so. We now have diverse representatives that reflect the true demographics of today’s Santa Clara. It’s past time to clean up Santa Clara’s police department and that can only be done if divisive politics, criminal behavior, and uneducated police leadership is eliminated.

  2. Buchser Alum 7 months ago
    Reply

    CSC,
    .
    Do you have any articles or databases you recommend to read up more on statistical assertions you make such as SCPD having the highest percentage of officers convicted and fired for criminal offenses or shooting and killing unarmed people with mental illnesses? Is Santa Clara the highest in these categories across the nation or across California or in the bay area or Santa Clara County?
    .
    I do agree that it is bad for the SCPOA to be the body that essentially chooses the police chief. And if the position is to be an elected position it is bad for the candidate pool limited only to those who live in Santa Clara. I do not believe that the police chief must live in Santa Clara to do the job well and I do not think they can do the entire job well if they need the political and monetary support of the SCPOA to win election or reelection.
    .
    As you know I am concerned about whether or not there is any motivation on the part of the council majority to oust Nikolai because they want a police chief who will make decisions that are more agreeable to the Forty Niners. I do not assume that this is the motivation but I am concerned because they have been the opposite of transparent in private meetings with the Forty Niners and most or all of them have received tremendous political support costing huge sums of money from the Forty Niners.
    .
    If the motivation is be able to hire from a larger pool of candidates and not hire a chief who is beholden to the SCPOA and who can reform things within the department that need reforming then I support the effort to end election of the chief and switch to council appointment or appointment by the council appointed city manager. Or council selection from a short list proposed by city manager.
    .
    Despite my misgivings about the council majority’s behavior in some areas I think that this must be viewed as a separate issue that has ramifications for the future of our city far beyond the time when anyone will remember this period of Santa Clara politics. It is not important to me that some of them might be pressing for this for no reason other than simple petty political motivations.
    .
    If we change this I strongly hope that they are actually interested in making reform and improvement within SCPD. But I do doubt any of them will stick their necks out in this regard. None of them have spoken like you and talked about specific issues with behavior of SCPD officers.

    • CSC 6 months ago
      Reply

      Buchser Alum: The highest percentage killing of unarmed persons with mental challenges is supported by a 2019 Santa Clara County Civil Grand jury report; highest percentage convicted cops’ assertion in the Bay Area is summarized by available reports from public media, county DA press releases, and other collateral. Everyone should note California has one of the opaquest systems of transparency compared to other states in the Nation and despite the passage and signing into law SB1421 and SB16, the City of Santa Clara is one of the slowest to fully complete Public Records Act requests. In fact, separate from the city, the police department has its own records manager who has been directed not to complete any requests for records.
      • Police and the Mentally Ill (Pg 9, Table A): https://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2018/Police_and_Mentally_Ill_Improving_Outcomes050818.pdf
      • California Police Transparency Restricted: https://apnews.com/article/business-laws-police-reform-police-government-and-politics-d1301b789461adc582ac659c3f36c03c
      • City of Santa Clara, “The Paper Chase”: https://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2019/CGJ%20City%20of%20Santa%20Clara%20Final%20Report%20-%2006.18.19.pdf
      .
      Your apprehensiveness of an appointed police chief making decisions “more agreeable to the Forty Niners” is illogical as s/he would report to the City Manager and should have no transactional interactions with the 49ers or any other company. Even today, it’s the City Manager who leads bargaining with the 49ers organization, not the elected police chief.
      .
      Yes, “…not hire a chief who is beholden to the SCPOA and who can reform things within the department that need reforming…” is exactly what the charter review movement is about. Daily adherence to tenets of disciplined leadership is what’s missing from past and current police department leadership. Previous police chiefs who meted out discipline to wrongdoing cops were met by revolt by junior officers. There is no other industry that would tolerate and continue to employ persons who display overt racism, excessive violence, and lie to supervisors like Santa Clara Police Department does.
      • Essentials of Effective Leaders: https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/10-essential-attributes-of-effective-leaders/
      .
      The Charter Review Committee and City Council can only initiate an opportunity for reform, they will not be responsible for instilling it and making improvements within SCPD. That is the role of the City Manager, Police Chief, and hopefully someday an independent oversight committee. Hopefully you’ll take the time to look at neighboring cities like Sunnyvale, Campbell, Mountain View, and San Jose to realize they aren’t having the political issues the City of Santa Clara continues to have with its police department.

      • Buchser Alum 6 months ago
        Reply

        CSC,
        .
        Thank you kindly for the links to the reading. I have a lot of reading to do.
        .
        I hope that the charter review committee is in fact about reforming and improving the department in the ways that should be done.
        .
        I do not expect the council majority to have any interest in pushing for reform and improvement of the SCPD. I have not seen any of them bring up any of the concerns that you have brought up many times. Of course neither have Gillmor or Watanabe. I do not think anyone on the city council has the will or maybe even desire to change anything except the SCPOA’s weight in Santa Clara politics and elections.
        .
        I have not heard any of them talk about the rate of SCPD officers being convicted of crimes and fired or shootings of unarmed mentally ill persons. Or of the Sergeant Malae lawsuit. Or of any other scandal or impropriety having to do with SCPD officers not named Pat Nikolai.
        .
        If there is an end to elections of the chief and the chief becomes appointed then I do not see the council majority trying to rock the boat any further. If there is a need then I hope that city manager Jovan Grogan does. To actually push for changes of such issues he will need the full support of the council majority.
        .
        We shall see if he or they have any desire to pursue the reforms you are talking about. I strongly doubt any of them do.

  3. Buchser Alum 6 months ago
    Reply

    I neglected to mention the attempt to bribe the council at its meeting was made by the SCPOA President. I find it very troubling that “We must protect the Chief” is continually brought up without any mention of the protection of Santa Clara residents.
    .
    This could be connected to the oath the mayor swore to win the POA’s support in the most recent elections. The fact that all of those “members of the public” supported the mayor and are now upholding the pledge expressed in the oath strikes me as being really fascinating. I prefer to refer to this as the “trickle-down effect.” The Chief of Police and those they support are the only individuals these people care about protecting, not the city’s citizens.
    .
    Additionally, I’ve looked at the calendars of the Council, and it appears that they did indeed mark down the meeting with the Forty Niners. However, I was unable to locate any meetings that the Mayor held with the SCPOA or her personal advisor, Kirk Vartan. The ability of a mayor and a personal advisor to collaborate without holding meetings is intriguing.

    • CSC 6 months ago
      Reply

      Keen observations…
      • “We must protect the Chief” is continually brought up without any mention of the protection of Santa Clara residents.
      • The Chief of Police and those they support are the only individuals these people care about protecting, not the city’s citizens.
      .
      Very rarely does a cop blow the whistle and try to make changes internally. Police reform is about protecting both residents and officers while improving contacts with law enforcement. If not initiated, guided and supervised by residents, it will never get accomplished.

    • Buchser Alum 6 months ago
      Reply

      It is too bad that the Silicon Valley Voice does not use a commenting system that prevents commenters to be impersonated by other commenters and does not care to prevent this with their own editorial oversight.
      .
      The above was not written by me the person who was the first to use the “Bucher Alum” alias.
      .
      I do not disagree with the general message of this person however the full fact of the matter is that nobody in the council or in public comment is talking about the need to reform the selection of our police chief in order to protect the people of Santa Clara.
      .
      This includes everyone who is supporting the charter review and who presumably wants for the police chief to be selected by the city council or at least be selected by the city manager and not elected. Nobody in the council majority has spoken any criticism of the officers of the SCPD. None of them have even really spoken any criticism of Chief Nikolai’s administration of the police department.
      .
      I also find the urging to “protect our chief” to be uncompelling.
      .
      However the other side has not indicated any desire to do any reform or improvement of our police department other than to weaken it as an actor in Santa Clara politics. For all we have seen the council majority will be happy with the status quo from SCPD as long as the SCPOA stays out of city elections and politics.

  4. Buchser Alum 6 months ago
    Reply

    First off, successful reporting depends on allowing readers to voice their ideas and opinions. Never would I advocate the opposite. It appears that the other “Buchser Alum” merely wants to voice their opinions, which is unethical.
    .
    The author of the above was not me, who claimed to be the “Buchser Alum” alias’s original user. Their ridiculous attempt to write in the same style as I do is comical.
    .
    To clarify the above comment, I did not intend to imply that you must be outspoken or disparage concepts or individuals in order to voice your dissatisfaction. There are sometimes appropriate and improper ways to approach a situation. And this time, all that has to be done is advance in the direction of the community’s greatest interests.
    .
    I continue to believe that the slogan “Protect our Police Chief” is persuasive, and I continue to be baffled as to why the SCPOA President would choose to leave out any reference of the residents. Considering that, wouldn’t that qualify as lobbying?
    .
    I believe the problem in this situation is that the SCPOA fails to identify itself as a lobbying group despite the fact that it is one.

    • Buchser Alum 6 months ago
      Reply

      I encourage you to voice your ideas and opinions. I also encourage you to not try to confuse people by using the same alias as me.
      .
      I agree that the cries to “protect our police chief” are meant to inspire emotional protectiveness. They are not persuasive to me but probably will be to many. I am not confused by their not also including reference to the ever present need to protect the residents of Santa Clara or San Jose or San Antonio or San Salvador or anywhere. Or blue whales or giant pandas or any endangered species. Or anything that needs protecting.
      .
      They are talking about something specific within a specific context. People who campaign to “Keep Tahoe Blue” are not remiss in not also campaigning to keep our oceans unpolluted.
      .
      The SCPOA is a union for a group of municipal employees and so will behave in many ways that are similar to a lobbying group. They are not the same.
      .
      Does SEIU Local 521 “identify itself as a lobbying group?”

  5. Buchser Alum 6 months ago
    Reply

    In order to avoid appearing cowardly to the readers and to avoid using my alias, I urge you to use your own name. Thank you.
    .
    Good point. That you are not perplexed does not surprise me. For someone of your status, it is difficult to comprehend that humans, much alone animals, need to be protected. I suppose you are unaffected by all the immigrants who seek asylum in this country or even by the immigrants who reside in the City of Santa Clara. And your comment shows it.
    .
    It seems like lobbying to me when the SCPOA President is just concerned about one person’s employment.
    .
    You should conduct your own study if you want to know whether SEIU Local 521 is a lobbying organization because it appears that you don’t understand the definition of the term or even the context of the case. Which again, your comment shows it.

    • Buchser Alum 6 months ago
      Reply

      You appear to have riddled yourself into a little tizzy. Try taking a deep breath and calming down the next time. You are making nonsensical and emotional arguments.

      • Edward T 6 months ago
        Reply

        I’ve heard better come backs from your mom’s turkey sandwich. Get a life.

        • Buchser Alum 6 months ago
          Reply

          I do apologize. It was wrong of me to call you emotional. I do encourage robust discussion and hope to have more discussions in the future.

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