Santa Clara City Council called a special March 2020 election to fill the remainder of retired Chief Mike Sellers’ term, rather than making an appointment. The winner will have to run again in November. In the interim, Assistant Police Chief Dan Winter will continue to act as chief under the authority of the City Manager. The Council had 30 days to make an appointment.
Both Winter and former candidate for police chief Pat Nikolai have been lobbying for the job.
The discussion surfaced year-old resentments against Council Member Patricia Mahan’s (and former Council Member Patrick Kolstad’s) refusal to vote for an appointment after former Council Member Dominic’s Caserta May 2018 resignation.
“I want to remind everyone that in June 2018, after five hours, two members claimed that none of the candidates were qualified and refused to appoint,” said Council Member Debi Davis. “I refuse to let history repeat itself again, especially when one of the Council Members is still on dais.”
Four fifths of the body’s votes are needed for appointments — in this case six. Because Council Member Karen Hardy was absent, a unanimous vote of the six present was needed to make an appointment.
“I won’t have my actions mis-characterized,” said Mahan. “I never said the candidates were not qualified. I stood on the principle that our Council Members should be elected.”
“We wasted six hours last year,” Council Member Kathy Watanabe said. “There’s still one Council Member who didn’t participate honestly. There are still good candidates. One of them got 49 percent of the vote [in 2016].”
“We can’t go into past history,” said Council Member Raj Chahal. “We need to be civil. It’s not going to help anything to bring up the past.”
Mayor Lisa Gillmor disagreed, saying, “I think we should always use history as a guide.”
Residents Grant McCauley and Mary Grizzle spoke in favor of appointing Assistant Chief Winter.
“You can’t look to the past,” said Grizzle. “Dan Winters has the experience as Assistant Chief. If you think that would give him an advantage, that’s ludicrous… Dan will have to show he can do the job.”
City Denies Grand Jury Charges About CPRA Compliance, Has Significantly Improved Operations
In a response to a scathing June 2019 Grand Jury report (GJ) on Santa Clara’s compliance with the California Public Records Act (CPRA) the City challenged all findings, but has also adopted the recommendations. Watanabe described the report as “making the City look bad.”
The GJ investigated Santa Clara’s CPRA compliance in early 2019 after an investigation of the City’s and Stadium Authority’s contracting practices was rendered “futile” when it couldn’t get the needed records from the City that they requested.
The report charges the City doesn’t respond properly to records requests, doesn’t have a written policy about handling records requests, the City’s recordkeeping is disorganized, and there’s only one person on staff trained to handle records requests.
The City asserts (tinyurl.com/SC-GJ-2019-response) that it complies with legal requirements and has had a written public records policy since June 1999. In the last year Santa Clara also conducted four training sessions on public records.
Further, explained City Manager Deanna Santana, new records management and self-service access systems will come online in the next few months.
Chahal disagreed with the City’s blanket denial, saying, “I acknowledge that staff has done an outstanding job,” he said. “We have made great improvements. [But] we should treat this as an audit report.
“I don’t agree with the response to Finding #3 [recordkeeping],” he continued. “I looked at those requests. They are very specific.”
In business, Chahal said, “if you run a general ledger for a vendor, you can find all the [information].” If the City couldn’t do that, “we do not have good recordkeeping.”
Record Request Numbers Draw Council Ire
Santa Clara receives about 100 records requests monthly, exponentially more than other similar cities in the area, such as Sunnyvale (five) and Mountain View (34) — which don’t operate convention centers, utility companies or stadiums. According to City Manager Santana, 70 percent comes from the 49ers and the media.
One source is attorneys who use public records requests to get information that they would otherwise have to wait until the discovery phase of litigation, explained City Attorney Brian Doyle. Watanabe asked if the City had any recourse.
“There’s nothing we can do but comply,” answered Doyle.
“The Grand Jury didn’t benchmark us with any other city,” said Mayor Gillmor, “and didn’t consider where these requests are coming from.”
Santa Clara was being “targeted” she said, and requests were coming “from the 49ers, the 49ers’ consultants, the 49ers’ media friends. Some of these are just pure harassment… Next year, there’s another election. When there’s an election all the spies from these groups come out to start getting intelligence.”
Council Wants More Outreach for Charter Review, Offers No Resources
Reviewing the current Charter Review Committee’s (CRC) activity, Council Members complained about the low level of public participation and that the committee was, as Davis put it, “centered on opinions and things they shouldn’t be talking about.”
“The committee can’t censor public comments,” said City Clerk Hosam Haggag. “We had comments from several members of the public on ranked choice voting and seven districts. The public is free to suggest.”
The committee is a result of 2018’s approved Measure N asking if residents wanted the City to draft a charter amendment to elect City Council Members, except the Mayor, by district.
Mahan pointed out the committee has scheduled meetings, at times and locations, the Council asked for. “The City Clerk is right,” she continued. “You can’t censor what people can say. I commend you for making sure the public input is open.”
Watanabe followed with, “I, too, have received complaints,” and asked Doyle if the committee chair could legally make motions. “There’s nothing illegal about making a motion,” Doyle replied.
“It’s not what we’re doing but how we’re messaging it,” said Mayor Gillmor. “The message is not connecting. I wasn’t pleased to hear we don’t have a booth at the Art & Wine Festival. It’s just not good enough to throw something online.”
“The charter review committee asked if it had a budget and was told there was no budget,” said CRC Chair Suds Jain. “There was no budget for food, for childcare, for Facebook boosts. I would love to see more publicity.”
“This committee has been a waste of our time,” said former mayoral candidate Anthony Becker. “The court told us what to do.”
If the City wanted to survey City residents, Becker suggested, it should mail out surveys. It could also ask Niantic to “put rare Pokemon in these locations. A lot of people would definitely show up.”
The CRC currently has a survey to collect input from the community on the number of districts: https://www.opentownhall.com/7744
The City’s new Website will debut later this month.