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City Manager Lawyers Up, Demands COLA Raise

Santa Clara City Manager Deanna Santana has hired a lawyer to press her claim that the City Council cannot deny her a 4.5 percent (roughly $20,000) cost of living adjustment (COLA) that was agreed to under the City’s Bargaining Unit 9, Unclassified Management.

This follows a discussion at the Dec. 7 Council meeting about whether or not the City Manager was automatically entitled to the same contract terms as Unit 9. Santana is the City’s chief labor negotiator. The City Council is able to approve or deny proposed contracts but it cannot change the final terms agreed on.

On Dec. 13, the Council received a letter from Santana’s attorney, Marin County-based Alison Berry Wilkinson, demanding that Santana receive the 4.5 percent COLA that was agreed upon for Unit 9.


Santa Clara historically has linked City Manager pay with that of Unit 9, and that was clearly specified in Santana’s contract.* The COLA is separate from merit increases, which are at the discretion of the Council.

Saying that, “the Council may not fully comprehend the obligations under the [employment] Agreement,” Berry Wilkinson writes, “The language is mandatory…[and] leaves no discretion to the Council once it approves the Unit 9 COLA. Any failure to do so would constitute a breach of contract.”

To anyone’s knowledge, the City Council has never refused to grant a City Manager the same COLAs as other unclassified management.

In her five-page letter, Berry Wilkinson elaborated at length on the laurels garnered by Santana throughout her career in San Jose, Oakland, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara. The attorney also included a lengthy discussion of “insults” that the City Manager believes she has received from City council members, an opinion that the Council should have been “more thoughtful” in firing former City Attorney Brian Doyle and a demand for an apology.

Santana is an at-will employee, but if her severance is “involuntary,” she will receive nine months salary and health insurance benefits.

The City Manager isn’t the only current or former Santa Clara executive lawyering up. Fired City Attorney Doyle has also hired an attorney, Oakland-based Tom Stout.

City Manager Pay – A Sore Issue Since 2017

Santana’s salary has been contentious since she was hired in late 2017. Several council members objected to it at the time but were outvoted. The same objections were raised when she received a $30,000 retroactive COLA within six months of being hired in Santa Clara.

In 2020 Santana was the most highly compensated city manager in California, with the exception of two city managers that retired that year (source: When she came to Santa Clara in 2017 from Sunnyvale, she garnered a $220,457 raise. Prior to her tenure, Santa Clara ranked 15th in city manager pay (2015).

During the last economic downturn (2008-2009) City Manager Jennifer Sparacino took a voluntary 10 percent pay. With COVID ravaging municipal revenues, Palo Alto’s city manager took a 20 percent ($71,000) pay cut.

Santana, however, took no pay cut when COVID decimated City revenues, but agreed, along with Unit 9, to forego COLAs in 2020 and 2021.

Santana’s compensation, it has been argued by previous Councils, is justified by the magnitude of responsibility she bears. Unlike most city managers, Santa Clara’s city manager must also manage a major sports venue, convention center and an electric utility.

However, Sacramento also has a municipal electric company, sports venues and convention centers — plus the state government — and that city’s manager receives a total compensation package is $445,252.

*”Although the position of City Manager is not in Unit 9,” says Santana’s contract, “Employee shall be subject to all cost of living adjustments to salary and benefits for… Unit 9.”

Formerly, the Police Chief’s COLAs were set by the same policy until Mayor Lisa Gillmor, former City Attorney Doyle ad Santana decided it was improper because the police chief is an elected, not appointed, official. Santana blamed the prior policy on HR’s “weak internal controls,” “inappropriate administrative actions,” and “mismanagement of the payroll system.”


  1. CSC 2 years ago

    A contract is a contract and must be honored unless one of the parties willfully violate its terms. But what does Santana do at the electric facility that Manuel Pineda doesn’t?

    The City would be much better off cutting Santana a nine month check with a pink slip and then hiring both a new City Manager and separate facility executive to oversee the sports and convention center operations.

  2. Tom 2 years ago

    This woman (Santana) is not only not deserving of her ridiculous salary, but she serves herself, regardless of the needs of others. Her terms, her way. Her staff is no better. An embarrassment to the City and those they are supposed to serve.

  3. Ryan Collen 2 years ago

    I work for the City of Santa Clara, and this woman has been a leech of our residents money, ever since she was hired into the city. She only see’s herself as the sole bread winner of the City of Santa Clara. SHE CLAIMS She got Santa Clara out of the Dark Ages. SHE CLAIMS She does more Good than Bad, but NO ONE has Seen what she does.

    Why does she need a raise? The rest of us got our benefits knicked because she needs more money? F*** That Noise!

  4. George 2 years ago

    I guess 465,000 salary is not enough for Santana, now she wants a 20,000 raise?? Oh yes she is owed that raise based on her contract but the nerve asking for a raise when she can’t balance the City budget? What is her accomplishments for this year??? No Art and Wine, no Fireworks for 4th of July. Our electrical, garbage and water rates have gone up. HAve you seen all the fencing around El Camino boarded up shops?? How about all our friends and neighbors who have lost their City jobs. Mrs Santana should take heed by the firing of the City Attorney she serves at the pleasure of the city council and can be fired at any time for any reason. I would think that not being able to balance your budget and being 30 million in the red is a big reason. Also her talk of being bullied by the City Council is rich, since if you talk with folks in the City she is the biggest bully of all. She will consistently berate people in person or over the phone. The question for Citizens of SantaClara should ask if we were in a job were our sole job was to provide services to the people based on a balance budget and I was in the hole 30 million bucks would I ask my employer for a 20,000 raise??? Maybe what my employer should be asking is should Miss Santana remain City Manager????

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