Former City Manager Deanna Santana is threatening to sue Santa Clara, claiming that the City has failed to pay the compensation and benefits specified in her contract when she was dismissed in February 2022. Santana also claims that she was dismissed as retaliation for whistleblowing and has suffered “monetary damages and emotional distress as a result of…wrongful conduct by the City.” [santana claim]
Santana’s separation agreement with the City gave her one year of full salary and benefits, including cost-of-living adjustments and accruals of vacation and management leave, beginning March 31, 2022, and concluding on March 31, 2023.
Santana claims that the City reneged on its obligations and “clawed back accrued” benefits beginning March 19, 2023. These include a cost-of-living adjustment, CalPERS contributions and the full sum of accrued vacation and management leave from October 2017 through March 31, 2023.
Santana claims that these breaches of contract were an “after the fact pre-textual claim that it had no obligation to pay such earned wages and benefits” and occurred as discrimination and retaliation for being a “whistleblower.”
She bases her claim on a 2022 grand jury report — a discussion of it makes up two-thirds of Santana’s complaint — that claimed, based on Santana’s testimony and that of also-fired City attorney Brian Doyle, Santa Clara was a quote “hostile environment for City staff.” The report has been criticized for a lack of research and a heavy reliance on hearsay, speculation and circular reasoning.
“Ms. Santana is aware that certain members of the City Council continue to press for retaliatory action against Ms. Santana,” the claim says, “including but not limited to directing City employees and/or agents of the City to delay and ultimately fail to perform the City’s lawful obligations to perform its contractual obligations owed to Ms. Santana and to unlawfully withhold earned wages and benefits.”
The city manager is an at-will city employee who can be dismissed at any time without a stated reason.
Santana’s History in Santa Clara
Santana’s history with the City of Santa Clara was a bumpy one, and one of the most contentious issues was her compensation. (There was already contention about her compensation in her previous post in Sunnyvale).
She was hired in October 2017 with a $700,000 total compensation package — including a housing stipend even though she lived in Sunnyvale. In 2022, when she was on a management leave, she remained the highest paid city manager – $785,000 – in California, with the exception of a manager who received $1 million in a lawsuit settlement.
Santana was dismissed in February 2022, following conflict with the City’s unions that led to a strike vote by a union. (Her departure from her previous job in Sunnyvale followed a similar strike threat.)
Earlier the same month, at a council goal-setting meeting, Santana blamed Santa Clara’s financial and management problems on unnecessary City council initiatives (she noted the homelessness initiative), public records requests and the council’s dismissal of the city attorney — which some council members characterized as “excuses.”
Her salary remained a sore point throughout her tenure. In 2021, some council members questioned her receiving a contractually agreed-to $20,000 cost-of-living adjustment while the City faced a $23 million deficit in 2021.
Immediately upon assuming her post, she oversaw the exodus of many experienced City employees. Over half the new hires between 2018 and 2020 were Santana’s former colleagues from San José and Sunnyvale. They were also hired at the top of the pay scale, with several receiving $60,000 to $100,000 increases from their previous jobs.
Although punctilious about “due diligence,” She had Banner public affairs working for $450 an hour before Signing a contract. This contract led to a grand jury investigation that resulted in a report castigating the City for its handling of public records requests. Because of the City’s deplorable handling of records requests, the grand jury found it “futile” to pursue its original objective.
Banner wasn’t the only one on the payroll without a contract.
Her former San Jose colleague Mark Danaj started work before a background check was completed on the grounds that he “presented a low risk to the City.” Danaj was subsequently indicted for embezzlement in Fremont, where he was later city manager. Another Santana hire, Scott McKibben (who quit his job before day one), subsequently pled guilty to attempted graft.