The 2023 Charter Review Committee voted 6-1 Thursday to recommend that Santa Clara appoint its city clerk and police chief and that both positions be appointed by the City Manager. The committee also made a preliminary recommendation to put the change, which requires a charter change, on the March 2024 ballot.
Appointed Full-Time Certified City Clerk
City clerk qualifications weighed heavily with the committee and other speakers.
“I want to see Santa Clara have a full-time appointed clerk with the education and certifications of a professional city clerk. I know we already have that in our assistant city clerk” said committee member Christine Koltermann.
“If this position is elected, voters have no way to test a candidate’s knowledge,” said resident Michele Ryan. Further, residents “need to be confident in the knowledge the city clerk is not beholden to political donors and supporters.”
Santa Clara has an appointed fire chief, Ryan noted.
“This appears to work very well. I’m sure it would work equally well for our police department,” said Ryan. “If electing a police chief was a better system, more cities in California would be following this model.”
“I just wanted to leave it as it is, but…the qualification should be looked at,” said Satish Chandra, the sole committee member favoring election. “Historically the City has been electing the city clerk.”
Prior initiatives to make the clerk and police chief appointments have decisively lost, he said.
Politics-Free Police Chief Appointment
The influence of election politics and a limited pool of qualified police chief candidates — only 10 Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) officers live in the City, only two are in management positions — were primary in committee members’ recommendation. The Santa Clara police union PAC’s highly partisan role in City elections weighed against the status quo.
“We don’t know anybody…in the pipeline would want to be chief, or want to run, or would be the best chief that we could get,” said Koltermann.
Qualified candidates don’t run, she said, because they don’t want to go through the ugliness of city campaigns.
“By going with an appointed Chief, we will cast a wider net,” Koltermann said.
“Prior to 2018, some council members and the Police Officers Association contended that Santa Clarans wanted to keep the at-large [council seat] voting system in place,” said chair Jeff Houston. “But when put to vote, residents said otherwise.”*
“Elections can and often do get ugly,” he continued. “Negative campaigns can make it difficult for officers, with their own supporters, to overcome this division and move back to professionalism. This is not a problem when appointed because the selection process is confidential.”
Committee member Daniel Huynh believes professional, rather than elected, city officials, is the direction cities are going. Huynh said early 20th century reforms meant that public jobs went to qualified professionals, not “the sons, the nephews or relatives or business partners” of elected politicians.
“There is simply too much politics,” Huynh continued. “Too much division, too much negative campaigning, too much nastiness, too much power from certain invested parties [and] special interests.”
Lack of diversity in the candidate pool concerned committee member Joyce Davis. People talk “about the opportunity for more people to be part of the process as if that’s going to happen by appointment and not election,” she said.
“I’d like the discussion to be [about] people running unopposed,” Davis said. “I don’t know why we are beating them [candidates] up. Others chose not to step up. What is it about our City that makes it seem that it is only for certain types of people?”
The City already has diversity in these positions, said committee member Chandra.
“We have first Arab Muslim who was elected city clerk, so the diversity is already there,” said Chandra. “Over the years, you will have a lot of diversity.”
“Campaigns for the positions of chief of police and city clerk attract and reward politically savvy and connected people that are often recruited by council members and come to their otherwise professional jobs with political allegiances,” said Houston.
“Hiring competent and qualified professionals who have adequate experience and knowledge of the applicable law is critical,” he continued. “Appointed officials are accountable daily, not just every four years.”
For information, visit the City’s website at www.santaclaraca.gov/2023charterreview/. The committee’s final meeting will be Thursday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Central Park Library. The committee will look at the results of an internet community survey. Watch the Sept. 21 meeting on YouTube.
*After a judge ordered by-district elections in Santa Clara, two ballot measures were advanced to bring back modified at-large seats — Measures A and C. The police union PAC supported both of these. Both lost and 2022’s Measure D passed codifying seven council districts.
Charter Review Committee Meeting: Appointed City Clerk And Police Chief Don’t Feel Intimidated
Charter Review Committee Survey Out Now
2023 Charter Review Committee Hears From Police Chief, City Clerk
2023 Charter Review Committee Holds First Meeting