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Former City Manager Deanna Santana Set to Sue

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.

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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.

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10 Comments
  1. "Just the facts, ma'am." 7 months ago
    Reply

    Carolyn,
    Did Anthony ask you to write this article? Hopefully, your readers realize that a valid executed contract was breached. In closing, enjoy yourself as you compose your slanderous and mudslinging hit pieces. Just the facts, ma’am.”

  2. Fred 7 months ago
    Reply

    Lisa’s gifts to the city just keep on giving, don’t they?

    Thanks Lisa! Not only did you screw up our finances you hired incompetent people. It’ll take us several years to recover but first we have to get you and Watanabe out of office.

  3. CSC 7 months ago
    Reply

    Santana was at the helm when the old City Council and current police culture tried to suppress district voting. That ill-advised stunt cost city residents $6million dollars. This is a shakedown by Santana, with her overgenerous compensation and status as an at will employee, her attorneys don’t want to face a jury.

  4. Buchser 2 6 months ago
    Reply

    If Deanna Santana is indeed considering contesting her termination compensation, then the city should in-turn consider counter-suing to negate her separation agreement with the City and recovering all funds previously paid to her.

  5. W.S. 6 months ago
    Reply

    I think Deanna Santana has proven her approach of “me, me, me” quite sufficiently. Apparently receiving a salary that was excessively high, particularly in comparison to other City Managers in similar size cities, plus her housing stipend were not enough for her to be able to live comfortably. Her attitude that she was owed a $20,000 a year increase was another example of her selfishness. It truly makes me wonder how she thought she could manage a city if she was not able to manager her own finances on a $700,000+ salary and housing stipend. My response to Ms. Santana is boo-hoo. Your employment was at-will. If you were in a private corporation and made the same mistakes there, you would have been equally terminated. Your salary does not make you exempt from a performance review. You and Brian Doyle should leave with some amount of dignity. You and Mr. Doyle’s pursuit of a lawsuit simply demonstrates your weaknesses.

    • Buchser Alum 6 months ago
      Reply

      WS,
      .
      Santana’s final salary in 2021 was not 700 thousand dollars. It was about 450 thousand with another 50 thousand in other pay. I agree with the argument that it does not need to be that high especially when we ended up hiring high level assistants to her for very high salaries as well.
      .
      But her base salary of 450 thousand alone was not humongously different than Jovan Grogan’s at 405 thousand and was about the same as Rajeev Bhatra’s at 445 thousand.
      .
      What I am confused about is that the city directory still shows three assistant city managers and I believe they are the same. Nadine Nadine and Cynthia Bojorquez and Ruth Shikada and I do not know of them having gotten a pay cut. It seems so far that Jovan Gregory has needed the same assistants that Santana did.

      • Buchser 2 6 months ago
        Reply

        Hopefully, in time, Jovan shall begin dismantling some of the trash Deanna left behind. Our city currently has a large deficit. He has a big job ahead.

  6. Thank You for the Salary Clarification 6 months ago
    Reply

    Facts are stubborn things: and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
    -John Adams

  7. kurt mershon 6 months ago
    Reply

    I am still choking on her salary. She should be setting to doing whatever it is called when you give money back, instead of getting money.
    I choked when I first did research and found “Actual Employee Salaries as of 11/7/2014” 289,920.
    You can imagine my chokerage when that number went over 400,000 or 500,000 or whatever hundred thousand.
    Gosh!
    Well, today, Dec 21 2023, still choking.
    I think “chutzpah” is too feeble a word.

  8. CK 5 months ago
    Reply

    Not an ounce of compassion for Santana. What about those of us who worjed fir the CVB where we proudly supported/sold the city? We lost our jobs because of lies.

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