As a local small business manager and member of one of the only working cooperatives in the South Bay, Kirk Vartan is a special advisor to Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor. It was confirmed to Vartan by Mayor Gillmor via email [Re_ Statement about Kirk Vartan’s title of _Special Advisor to the Mayor__Redacted] and stated on the record by Mayor Gillmor at the March 21 City Council meeting.
Vartan is Mayor Gillmor’s special advisor.
However, what role that plays within Santa Clara’s city government is less obvious.
Santa Clara’s “Special Advisor to the Mayor”
The Weekly reached out to Mayor Gillmor via the two email addresses listed on the City’s website and asked how the role of “Special Advisor to the Mayor” is selected; if there is an application process; and if it is a paid City position. The Weekly also asked what qualifications a “Special Advisor to the Mayor” must possess and what the job duties of the “Special Advisor to the Mayor” are.
The mayor did not respond to any of these questions.
As far as The Weekly can determine, Vartan is the only person who holds the title of “Special Advisor to the Mayor.” When The Weekly reached out to the local small business owner via email, he told this publication he has held the role since February 2020.
“I keep the mayor and the City informed of worker cooperative activities locally, in the state and federally,” said Vartan when asked what he does in his capacity as special advisor. “I keep the mayor informed what is happening in this area, relevant legislation and other items that could impact worker cooperative small businesses, and when appropriate, small businesses in general.”
When asked if he attends any specific meetings in his role as “Special Advisor to the Mayor,” such as Chamber of Commerce meetings or local small business forums, Vartan said, “I attend meetings like this often. I am always paying attention to things that may be relevant for the City that the mayor may or may not be aware of. If relevant, I will inform her.”
He says he has only used the title of “Special Advisor to the Mayor” a handful of times in correspondence.
“I have used it once publicly when representing the mayor’s interest in participating in a cooperative conference or around supporting legislation,” said Vartan. “I believe I used it once when communicating to the City of Santa Clara. It is not used often. Ironically, Council Member [Anthony] Becker and Council Member/Vice Mayor [Kevin] Park (and even your paper) have used the title more than I have.”
Vartan says he is not compensated for his work in this role.
The “Special Advisor” and the City Charter
There is no doubt that Vartan holds the role of “Special Advisor to the Mayor.” However, to date, it is undefined how that role interacts with the City of Santa Clara.
When asked about the role of “Special Advisor to the Mayor,” a spokesperson for the City of Santa Clara said, “There is no official position of employment on the City rolls of ‘Special Advisor to the Mayor.’ Therefore, the City does not have any information to respond to your inquiries.”
The response directed The Weekly to “reach out to the Mayor directly for further questions.”
But, as mentioned before, Mayor Gillmor did not respond for comment.
When asked if Santa Clara’s City Charter allows the Mayor, other members of the City Council or members of the City staff to designate a “special advisor,” the City spokesperson simply replied, “The City Charter does not address this.”
The Weekly asked if the City of Santa Clara had the ability to hold a “special advisor” designated by the Mayor or another City official accountable for his or her actions and if the City had any liability stemming from the actions of a “special advisor” designated by the Mayor or another City official.
“Since the ‘special advisor’ is not employed by or an agent of the City, the City has no response,” said a City spokesperson.
Ultimately, the role of “Special Advisor” is a gray area within the City Charter. While the charter does not specifically preclude a City official from designating someone as their special advisor, it also does not allow for the creation of such a role. It is unstated, and therefore, the City has no precedent for how to manage a “Special Advisor’s” role within the City government or as an agent of the City government.
Interestingly, the “Special Advisor to the Mayor” is a Santa Claran citizen/business person, while the “Special Advisor(s) to Jed York” are Santa Clara Government Officials (i.e., the 49er Five). But there are crickets regarding this….. SC Weekly is quickly losing credibility….
For heaven’s sake this is such a silly nonissue.
The only people who are dumbfounded at the special advisor thing are those who want to use this pretend nonissue to divert attention from the criticism that Kirk Vartan makes of the current council majority.
Vartan’s criticism is one sided in terms of only ever being aimed at one side of council but it is usually accurate and backed up with evidence and logic. Sometimes he treats things as being more serious than they should be treated but he is polite and professional in how he conducts himself.
I do not work for a publication that is devoted to covering Santa Clara news but even I know that the special advisor role is not an official city position and is unpaid and does not come with any special privileges. It is simply a title given by the mayor. The current mayor has decided that Kirk Vartan has useful advice on certain topics and she gets advice from him. All mayors surely have people to whom they turn for advice even if they do not confer such a title.
I have seen Carolyn Schuk repeatedly feign confusion over this in order to imply that there is something significant that has been unexplained or unresolved.
It’s very simple. Kirk Vartan is a very politically active member of the public and also is a local business owner and worker coop organizer and has advice on worker coops and small businesses and probably political matters that the current mayor finds valuable for her to hear.
It is ridiculous to try to make an issue out of this while giving a free pass to the shamefully rude and petty and damaging way in which Kevin Park tried to make issue of this unofficial advisory description when he showed the people of Santa Clara that persistent criticism of him will be met with personal hostility.
While I can appreciate a “special advisor” might be needed from time to time, in this case, it gives an impression of favoritism or special treatment as it pertains to “worker cooperatives”. Clearly Mr. Vartan has an interest as he’s converted his own business to a co-op but does the Mayor really need three years of advice?
Time to move on.
There is no reason to suspect any favoritism or special treatment because Vartan’s pizzerias are in San Jose and Sunnyvale. He is not a resident of Santa Clara.
I presume with Vartan’s help the city has information up that is meant to assist business owners who are curious or interested about converting their business to a worker cooperative or creating one. This is informational and not any more special treatment for worker cooperatives than providing information on how to find and apply for affordable housing is special treatment of affordable housing. Or how the city has provided information to small businesses for seeking grants and other special programs for small businesses.
Kirk Vartan is apparently a special advisor on the matters of not only worker cooperatives but also small businesses. It makes sense for the mayor to consult with a civically active small business operator such as Kirk Vartan and I do not understand why there would be an expiration date for that.
For the record, I have known Mr. Vartan for almost 20 years and have never been confused — feigned or otherwise — about him.
Your personal feelings about Kirk Vartan and others always comes through loud and clear.
The confusion that seems feigned is supposed confusion over what the special advisor title entails. Either the confusion is feigned or one must wonder what The Silicon Valley Voice has been doing for so many years if it is confused over something that a common reader feels no confusion over.
Rather than feign confusion over the role in what is supposed to be a piece of reporting the Silicon Valley Voice should just publish an Op Ed about how it feels that such unofficial titles ought not be granted or used. Or at least not when the person designated with such title is a political ally of Lisa Gillmor about whom you have also made your personal feelings one hundred percent clear in what are supposedly pieces of reporting.
I can understand anyone complaining that Kirk Vartan is one sided in his criticism. He is not impartial and has a political bias when it comes to the Santa Clara city council.
The same exact thing can be said about the Silicon Valley Voice which has nothing critical to say about five councilpeople blatantly going to lengths to circumvent public meeting requirements and Kevin Park abusing his role as vice mayor running a city council meeting to personally mock a member of the public in a childish and petty fashion.
What a bunch of tripe. Why don’t you spend your time addressing where corruption is obvious, ie the 49ers Five. Oh yeah I forgot corruption doesn’t stop at the city council it can actually infest the local rags that report on it. Really, no one that’s paying attention is the least bit fooled.
…well, no one other than Gillmor and Vartan. As long as Vartan only speaks for himself and not anyone else, or not on behalf of an elected or appointed official, then let him be. People are making him out to be something larger than he actually is.
Touché! Kirk Vartan is a (in your opionion) is lowly person who ONLY devoted blood, sweat, etc., to build a business, a community, and a gr8 dang pizza joint. But you are RIGHT! Only the ELECTED ‘grifters’ and scoundrels that bed down with Jed York and the 4ky(9ers) SHOULD destroy Santa Clara. Thanks. Your comments were “illuminating.” <>
That’s the exact type of comment one posts when there is nothing intelligent to say, but yet that someone is itching to say something regardless. There are tens, if not hundreds of small businesses in Santa Clara, many who voice their opinions, concerns, and wants. None of those other proprietors have begged for an email from the mayor to prove their relevance. Special Advisor, Special Voter, Special Union Endorsement, Special Nobody … there’s no need to be a special anything just as long as the mayor and respective council members hear each and every one of their constituents. Keep slinging that pizza, Vartan. The city could use more of that co-op tax revenue!