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City Clerk Politics Creates Surprising Fervor

One item that wasn’t on the Santa Clara City Council meeting agenda last night, but had clearly been on some people’s minds since the previous meeting, was the question of the vacancy in the City Clerk’s office.

At the Feb. 6 meeting the Council appointed Community Relations Manager Jennifer Yamaguma as acting City Clerk following the resignation of former City Clerk Rod Diridon Jr. At the Feb.13 meeting the Council majority asked the City Attorney to draft a charter change ballot measure to make the City Clerk an appointed rather than elected position.

The conjunction of these Council decisions led to some fireworks at the start of the regular Council meeting.

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Council gadfly Deborah Bress demanded that the Council undo its interim appointment of Yamaguma because: first, the Council didn’t properly declare a vacancy; second, Yamaguma isn’t a City resident; third, a super-majority vote was needed because the appointment involved an unfunded appropriation; and last, that a Council Member had stated erroneously that a similar interim appointment of a non-resident to a vacant City office was legal under the charter. “According to the City Charter that vote was not done properly,” she said.

The City Attorney Brian Doyle explained that the appointment was done under section 903—appointing a current city employee to do the duties—not 703—appointing someone to the office. And further, since Yamaguma got no raise, there was no question of any new expense.

“You’re required per the charter to declare a vacancy when an official leaves office,” Bress insisted, despite her two minutes being up. “You have to answer the question.” Gillmor asked her to sit down, a request that Bress ignored. Gillmor went on to ask her to sit down 15 times and bang the gavel before cutting off the microphone.

Kevin Park then took up the argument and turned the discussion to the Feb. 13 meeting, which was, he said “not how democracy works. You don’t vote to give up your right to vote.” The City Attorney Had “showed he is not neutral on the subject,” Council Member Teresa O’Neill’s comparison of the present situation to a previous interim police chief appointment was “misleading,” and “nobody except Tino Silva, who is your [Gillmor’s] candidate as well,” supported this.

Gillmor then asked to have the point of this off-agenda discussion clarified, and Doyle explained that there was a “misrepresentation.”

“What happened last meeting was simply asking the Council how they wished to proceed [with regard to appointing an interim City Clerk or calling an election],” he explained. “Under 903 the Council has the authority, and I would say the duty, to appoint a City Clerk or someone to perform the duties of the City Clerk so the City can function.”

That person, he continued, “would not be the City Clerk. The City Council did not appoint any one as City Clerk. The Council still has 30 days to act. All they did last week was direct us to bring back [a report on] one of the options. They did not approve any of those options.”

Doyle further observed that the public discourse was not helped by “members of the public coming here every week attempting to prevent democratic processes by acting out of order.”

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