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.
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.”
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.