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.