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Charter Review Committee Meeting: Appointed City Clerk and Police Chief Don’t Feel Intimidated

At its third meeting on Sept. 14, the 2023 Santa Clara Charter Review Committee heard from Los Gatos appointed City Clerk Wendy Wood and retired Mountain View Police Chief Max Bosel.

The committee asked both speakers if they ever felt intimidated by the fact that they could be fired at any moment. Santa Clara City Clerk and Police Chief Pat Nikolai asserted at the committee’s Aug. 24 meeting that appointed officials would be more easily intimidated by their appointers. Neither Wood nor Bosel said they experienced this.

Los Gatos’ Appointed City Clerk

Wood holds a municipal clerk certification and has been a city clerk for eight years. She served as deputy city clerk and city clerk in Campbell for five years. She’s the Los Gatos city clerk and is finishing her Master Clerk certification. She hasn’t lived in any of the cities she’s worked in.

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Wood detailed her responsibilities.

“As an appointed clerk I’m required to know regulations regarding the Brown Act election laws, Public Records Act and political reform [I’m] the election official for the town, [and] set up all of the process for the elections,” said Wood.

She handled Los Gatos’ term limit ballot initiative and the changes brought by it.

She’s also responsible for maintaining the Municipal Code; accepting claims, subpoenas and appeals; accepting bids; and board commissions and committee programs and recruitment.

“I am currently appointed by the town manager but I have worked in other jurisdictions where I’ve been appointed by the city council,” she said. “When I was appointed by the Council the city manager was the one that oversaw my position.”

Asked about the role of ethics in her job, she said it was a “big part. If there is an incident where a clerk is not being ethical…the city manager can take action to remove that clerk. I’m always impartial. I give everybody the same information.”

Mountain View’s Appointed Police Chief

Bosel has 31 years of law-enforcement experience that began in Millbrae. He served in Mountain View for 18 years and, as chief, reported to the city manager. He lives in Mountain View.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in management, Bosel attended the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard, POST Supervisory Leadership Institute, and USC Delinquency Control Institute and was a captain before becoming police chief. He also served briefly as interim city manager after his retirement.

The police chief works “with the manager to implement a vision, reinforce the values of the community,” said Bosel. “You are also a member of the city’s executive team. And in the course of day to day work on a regular basis you meet [the] department team and collaborate over issues that might cross departmental lines” and in strategic decisions made by the city council.”

Bosel described his job as having “four pillars.” The first was public safety that addressed the concerns of city residents and neighborhoods. The second was the chief’s role in city government. Third was the “wellness” of his staff — from communication and collaboration to morale. And finally, participation in local, state and national associations and networking.

Both speakers were asked about intimidation. “When we heard testimony from our clerk and chief both said fear of retribution is a key difference between elected and appointed officials,” Chair Jeff Houston said. “How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t fear retribution,” said Wood. “If I’m following the law and doing what’s right for the city, then I wouldn’t imagine any retribution. If there was, there are other actions that can be taken [by] human resources.”

“Ultimately, as history shows,” said Bosel, “if you do the right thing, the right way, and conduct yourself in a manner in which you’re professional, not a lot of chiefs are getting fired left and right. There’s usually a reason for it.”

Houston asked Bosel what he would do if he believed that city officials had committed crimes. Would he write a public letter to the DA asking for an investigation (as Santa Clara Chief Nikolai did last year)?

“If there’s an allegation of criminal conduct…there would be a criminal investigation,” Bosel replied. “That wouldn’t result in a news release…it would be initiated in terms of an internal process as it would in any other allegation of [an] alleged criminal act.”

The Public

Public comment was split equally between those who favored change and those who favored the status quo.

Resident Wes Mukoyama pointed out that with by-district elections Santa Clara’s council now reflects “the 74% people of color in this city. However, “with at large election of the police chief, little has changed.”

While still endorsing elected positions, resident Pilar Furling suggested that qualifications to run should be considered “…in the hope that we get the best person possible.”

NAACP Silicon Valley president Jethro Moore said that nine years of experience on the POST commission had shown him “that some of those who were hired were more responsive to the community than those who were elected.”

Former city council member Teresa O’Neill endorsed retaining the elected positions but expanding mission and authority. 

“I think our chief of police should be given more independence and a little more authority,” said O’Neill.

She also suggested the city consider allowing candidates from a “radius” extending outside the city to run for chief.

For the city clerk, she suggested “more of an inspector general…or oversight officer for elections” or “a person who…could review resident complaints on issues with any delivery of city services.”

Gary Bondaug, an outspoken supporter of appointments, said that he didn’t see what value the elected clerk adds, especially when “he said [at the previous meeting] that he doesn’t have any experience and that he really doesn’t do much.”

Regarding the police chief, he said, “Santa Clara’s Police Department has the most officers arrested and convicted of crimes per capita…Officers arrested and convicted of crimes that typically comes about because of a bad culture. Patrick Nikolai never once spoke out about systemic racism or abuses by police officers in the Santa Clara Police Department.

“If that’s what he thinks is a quality of an elected police chief,” Bondaug continued, “We don’t need an elected police chief. We need an appointed police chief who is held accountable daily to a manager.”

For information about the 2023 Charter Review Committee, visit the City’s website at http://www.santaclaraca.gov/2023charterreview/. The committee next meets Thursday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Central Park Library and will review the results of a city-sponsored survey.

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5 Comments
  1. Buchser Alum 7 months ago
    Reply

    Carolyn,
    .
    “The committee asked both speakers if they ever felt intimidated by the fact that they could be fired at any moment. Santa Clara City Clerk and Police Chief Pat Nikolai asserted at the committee’s Aug. 24 meeting that appointed officials would be more easily intimidated by their appointers.”
    .
    I followed your link to Erika’s article on the other meeting where Chief Nikolai made this statement according to you but Erika does not quote him as saying anything of this nature at all.
    .
    Do you have a direct quotation of what he said on this topic during that meeting? Did he use the term “intimidated” or the phrase “could be fired at any moment?”
    .
    I am curious because I think that these are bad exaggerations for someone in his position to use. A chief being appointed by the council and reporting to the city manager means that the chief will be accountable to the city council and city manager but “intimidated” is an exaggerated way to describe the relationship. And it is just plain silly to talk about a chief being “fired at any moment.” Even when a city council has power to appoint and remove a police chief that sort of decision does not get made on a moment’s notice.
    .
    Did he use the words that you imply he used? What did he say exactly?

    • Editor 7 months ago
      Reply

      Here are the quotes and the timelines from the meeting in question:
      At 1:20:49, the chief says: “Another benefit for being the elected chief, is I don’t not have to worry about doing the right thing. A perfect example is the recent grand jury report. I penned a letter to the district attorney to investigate some of the allegations that were in that report. Now would an appointed chief have done that? Probably not if they wanted to keep their job.”

      At 1:36:45, the chief says: “Well, I think, in my opinion, it’s obvious if the chief vocally says the city council is potentially corrupt and D.A. you should investigate them, the city council would probably lose their support for that police chief and would want to see that police chief removed from office.”

      • Buchser Alum 7 months ago
        Reply

        Editor,
        .
        Thank you very much for the timestamps and the direct quotations. As I understand it Chief Nikolai did not ever actually said that “appointed officials would be more easily intimidated by their appointers.” I do not mean to suggest that Carolyn represented this as a quotation but I do suggest that it would be more straightforward reportage to use direct quotes rather than paraphrasing that could distort what a speaker actually said.
        .
        Just report what they said and let that stand on its own. Why bring in the word “intimidated” when neither Nikolai nor Wood nor Bosel used that word? This is a detailed piece and there is certainly enough space to be more precise in reporting the statements people made in public meetings and not paraphrase with a term that none of them actually used.
        .
        The dynamic that Chief Nikolai was referring to is not well summed up as “intimidation.” Intimidation is an action. Not just “to make timid or fearful,” but “especially : to compel or deter by or as if by threats” according to Merriam Webster. Chief Nikolai did not allege that the current city council majority has intimidated him or that he feels intimidated when it comes to speaking his mind freely.
        .
        I think a more accurate rephrasing of the words that you have so kindly quoted and timestamped is that Chief Nikolai feels that a police chief calling out a city council majority for potential corruption will create strife between that police chief and council majority. The council majority has political and administrative leverage that they can bring to bear upon the police chief and can effect his removal from office. Not speaking out against them is better for the job stability of the police chief if he serves at the discretion of the city council or that of an official who serves at the discretion of the city council such as the city manager.
        .
        I think this is a realistic description of political dynamics. Rivalries and retribution are unfortunately common features of government and we are seeing this play out right now in a way. Chief Nikolai as chief and prior to being chief as the president of the SCPOA has been a political ally of Mayor Gillmor and has been a political opponent of the council majority. They have initiated a process with the clear hope of gaining the authority to replace him with an appointment of their choosing or at least not via public election since that strongly favors whichever candidate is the choice of the SCPOA.
        .
        I support at least the examination of a different way of choosing our police chief and lean toward supporting appointment by the city council and or the city manager. But let us not pretend that this makes the position nonpolitical because political appointments are of course political in nature and there will be political considerations in the relationship and how the job is carried out. And this is normal and routine in almost all cities.
        .
        It does not need to rise to the level of “intimidation” to exist or to be a concern. But it is also far from the only concern we should have in mind when examining this question.
        .
        Thank you again for taking the time to provide the quotations and timestamps.

  2. CSC 7 months ago
    Reply

    Aug 24 Comments by Nikolai: https://youtu.be/-3GJqQZwjBA?t=4846
    .
    Sept 14 Questions and Comments between Chair Jeff Houston and retired Police Chief Max Bosel: https://youtu.be/u0sLWt8qrsE?t=3180

  3. Buchser 2 7 months ago
    Reply

    I suggest they simply put it up on the ballot, and let our voters decide.

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