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Letter to the Editor – Re: Santa Clara’s Elected Police Chief – Opinion

Santa Clara is the ONLY city in the entire State of California to have an elected Chief of Police.

I contend that Santa Clarans don’t actually have a choice in selecting their Chief of Police. The current Chief of Police, Pat Nikolai, ran unopposed in his last two elections March 2020 and November 2020. Mike Sellers also ran unopposed when he first got elected in 2012.

The Police Officer’s Association (POA) has already created a website saveourpolicechief.com and is placing Facebook ads to oppose even putting this on the ballot so that voters can decide.  The Political Action Committee or PAC run by the POA has spent heavily in every election to help certain candidates get elected.

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On June 18th, 2016, Scott Herhold from the Mercury News wrote: The elected police chief, Mike Sellers, is suddenly facing a serious challenge from the longtime leader of the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association, Pat Nikolai, on the November ballot. Anointed by his predecessors, Sellers was elected without opposition four years ago to his first term. You have to reach back two decades, to the 1996 battle between then-chief Charlie Arolla and Rich Rodriquez, to find a fight of similar dimensions.

Many believe that Pat Nikolai lost his first election in 2016 against Mike Sellers because Pat was only a sergeant and didn’t have management experience. He probably would not have been hired as Chief of Police in any of our neighboring cities due to lack of management experience.

Nikolai was then promoted to Lieutenant in 2018.

I hear that Dan Winter decided not to run against Pat Nikolai in 2020 because POA vowed to spend $250K to oppose Dan.  Which is why Nikolai ran unopposed and got elected even though Dan Winter had been Assistant Chief of Police and has a B.A. in Management, a J.D. from Santa Clara University and is a member of the California Bar. Nikolai’s main qualification seems to me that he was POA president for 18 years.

I checked with POA president Jeremy Schmidt and he confirmed that any candidate for Chief of Police must reside in the City of Santa Clara. That severely limits the pool of candidates for Chief of Police.

I filed a 030 request in June 2022. At the time there were only 12 sworn officers (including the Chief) out of a force of 153 sworn who live in the City.

At the time the ranks of officers living in the City were as follows:

Police Chief – 1
Police Captain – 1
Police Lieutenant – 2
Police Sergeant – 1
Police Officer – 7

This seems to me to be a very limited pool to draw from and, when considering management experience, the pool shrinks even further.

I wonder who the POA will pick to be our next elected Chief when Pat Nikolai retires. I fully expect that person will run unopposed.

From the Santa Clara Weekly on March 30,2022: A survey of 30 representative California cities shows that Santa Clara has one of the least qualified and highest paid police chiefs in California. Whether it’s education, professional certification or public safety management experience, elected Police Chief Patrick Nikolai ranks far from the top.

At the same time, Santa Clara is in California’s top 10 (of all cities) for police chief salary. And it appears to be one of few cities — perhaps the only one — whose police chief was the long-time president of the police union. https://www.svvoice.com/santa-claras-elected-police-chief-system-fails-to-make-the-grade/

I believe that Santa Clara should be able to recruit from the best police forces in the Nation for our Police Chief just like all the other cities in California do.

Also if we switch to an appointed Chief of Police then many of our senior PD management folks with the most experience who don’t live in the City would then eligible to be appointed and serve as Chief.

SV-VOICE:  reported on Aug 12, 2020Longtime Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) veterans Captains Wahid Kazem and Derek Rush were promoted to the assistant chief positions. Sources close to City Hall, who aren’t authorized to talk to the press, report Police Chief Patrick Nikolai no longer participates in City executive leadership team meetings. Chief Nikolai ran unopposed for his partial term in the March 2020 election. He is up for reelection in November 2020.

I’ve heard over the years from several prominent people that they don’t even know what Chief Nikolai does while he is in this position. Perhaps that’s why the former City Manager appointed two Assistant Police Chiefs in 2020.

Nikolai is certainly not impartial.

  1. On October 22, 2020, he participated along with Alex Torke, Burt Field, Lisa Gillmor, Teresa O’Neill in a political press conference that was illegally held within 100 feet of a ballot box in front of City Hall.
  2. In August 2022, there was a closed session meeting where Mayor Gillmor and Kathy Watanabe accused Anthony Becker of threatening them and the Mayor said she was so worried that she called the police. She actually called her friend, Pat Nikolai. Officers showed up only because Interim CM Rajeev Batra called them due to a potentially unstable attendee at the Council Chambers. An independent investigation subsequently found that Anthony Becker did not act in a threatening manner.
  3. On October 10, 2022 Nikolai penned a public letter to District Attorney Jeff Rosen asking him to investigate findings in the Grand Jury report even though the Grand Jury made no criminal referrals. This was in the middle of a close election battle between Mayor Gillmor and Anthony Becker. It seems that Rosen has chosen not to act on any on the findings in the report despite Nikolai’s urging.

Please note that the survey included in the packet was commissioned by the POA and surveyed only 350 people. I believe the following question was misleading like: Did you know Santa Clara is one of the last cities in California to “elect” their Chief of Police?  Santa Clara is the ONLY city in the State of California to elect its Chief of Police.

Again, I will be very surprised if there were more than one candidate in the next election for Chief of Police.

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12 Comments
  1. Santa Clara resident 8 months ago
    Reply

    Suds makes some good points. One thing City voters should ask themselves is this: who oversees the chief of police? Who investigates complaints against the police? The former head of the POA? A strong Chief would have established an independent oversight board.

    Is the former head of the POA going to put the interests of City residents above those of his highly paid officers? Those who spent money too put him on office?

    Do voters really believe that an election every 4 years is sufficient accountability, especially when the POA will do anything to put their selected candidate in office?

  2. Do Better Suds 8 months ago
    Reply

    Love the hypocrisy in Suds Jain’s argument.

    He literally complains that hardly any officers live in the city, but complains about the only one that is forced to live in the city.

    I would think he would be happy that the chief lives in the city as he would actually care about the residents instead of some new Chief from god only knows where from around the country, from a “nationwide search” who would 100% not care or know about the residents of Santa Clara and only see a $ salary figure when applying.

    And if Suds Jain, an elected official, is throwing stones at another elected official, let’s look at Suds Jain and the rest of this council and their qualifications for being in their elected position.

    I bet the city manager can find 6 way more qualified people who live in Santa Clara to make choices for our city, policies, and monetary decisions on running a city like ours over the current ones.

    Let’s get rid of elected city council too since I bet Suds Jain is not even close to being qualified to make the decisions he’s been making. He only won a popularity contest and was able to get enough people to donate to his popularity contest.

    Also, this is embarrassing that a news agency would allow a politician to write this opinion piece. It kinda shows their hand and what they are all about. No wonder the news profession as a whole have an overall approval rating that is truly sad.

    • Buchser Alum 8 months ago
      Reply

      Do Better Suds
      .
      Suds’s argument is not hypocritical at least not in how you argue it is.
      .
      He does not complain about there being hardly any SCPD officers living in the city. He is complaining that a candidate for chief must live in the city and because so few do that this limits the potential candidates to a tiny number.
      .
      Your rhetorical argument that maybe the city manager should appoint council members makes no sense. The city manager is appointed by the council and so if the city manager becomes able to replace council members then that sets up the city manager as a despot.
      .
      No city has a legislative body appointed by the city manager. They are elected and this is the norm. No other city in California has an elected police chief. They are elected and this is the norm.

  3. Do Better Suds 8 months ago
    Reply

    Buchser Alum,

    You clearly either don’t watch the the council meetings or selectively forgetting that Suds Jain has numerous times mentioned in the Dias that he would like city officers to live in the city.
    He’s just now switching to this argument that there aren’t enough city officers living in the city to be chief. How about the many other offices who work at other agencies? I don’t know how many but I’m sure there are dozens of not more that live in the city that just don’t work for Santa Clara. They can also run. You and him are putting blinders on and just looking at the numbers who work for this city to fit your narrative.

    And it is normal for city council to be elected, you are right, but when has an elected official in any branch criticized the position of another elected official and why they are elected? That’s like a senator complaining a House member is elected. Or a county supervisor comparing in about a city elected official.

    Right next door in Sunnyvale, city council members aren’t complaining and trying to get rid of their Public Safety Dept, the only truly one that is fire and police in the country. They aren’t saying, we’re the only one in the state/country that rotates fire fighters to cops, let’s change and separate them to be like everyone else.

    I’m just making the point, that if an elected official wants to complain about another elected official, you better be top notch and qualified for your own spot, which isn’t the case here with Jain.

    There are alternative motives going on, you just dont know or don’t want to believe it.

    • CSC 8 months ago
      Reply

      “if an elected official wants to complain about another elected official, you better be top notch and qualified for your own spot, which isn’t the case here with Jain.”
      .
      “if an elected official wants to complain about another elected official, you better be top notch and qualified for your own spot, which isn’t the case here with Patrick Nikolai.”
      .
      “if an elected official wants to complain about another elected official, you better be top notch and qualified for your own spot, which isn’t the case here with Jeremy Schmidt.”
      .
      Suds Jain ran against opposition with district voters affirming confidence in his qualifications by 60% of their vote. No one can say the same of the other two.

    • Buchser Alum 8 months ago
      Reply

      Do Better Suds,
      .
      You clearly are mistaking a sentiment about the residence of many of our many police officers with our one single police chief. Wanting there to be more than the tiny number of officers living in the city does not require Suds or anyone to want the police chief to be a resident just to be able to run for election to be chief.
      .
      Suds may want the chief to live in Santa Clara too whether elected or appointed.
      .
      For some of our city councilpeople to object to the position of the police chief to be appointed and not elected is not like senator complaining about a House member being elected a county supervisor comparing in about a city elected official. Because it is the normal for all those positions to be elected. It is highly abnormal for the position of police chief to be an elected one.
      .
      For a city councilperson to object to the police chief being elected and not appointed is like a city councilperson to want the position of fire chief to be appointed and not elected. Or city attorney.
      .
      Finally I have already written multiple times about my concern that councilpeople who are aligned with the Forty Niners want for police chiefs to be appointed so that they can install a police chief who will be more favorable to the Forty Niners in accounting for use of police resources that they must pay for. But this does not mean that it is better for us to have an elected police chief instead of an appointed one.

  4. Carol 8 months ago
    Reply

    If some Council members feel there are not enough Chief of Police candidates living in the City of Santa Clara: Why not simply be advocating to open this position up to officers in our surrounding communities, for Santa Clara residents to then vote on a wider slate? Has the reason(s) been fully explored why so many officers live elsewhere? Are frequent requests to work overtime making it difficult for our officers to further their educations while employed in Santa Clara? Is their commute to work hindering their ability to further their educations? Can their housing and educational needs be improved upon?
    – Why throw the baby out with the bathwater?

  5. Do Better Suds 8 months ago
    Reply

    To CSC and Buchser Alum,

    It’s nice that Suds didn’t mention all of this opinions and stuff like this while he was running for an elected position and only says this BS stances after being elected. I’ll give him credit for 60% if he’s elected again, but everything he has said does not come from the residents in his area. I can guarantee you that. I live in his area and did not vote for him and will never vote for him sicne he has now opened his mouth and took away all doubt that he is in fact, a fool. And has embarrassed our city immensely.

    It’s funny you attack Patrick Nikolai for his position for lack of whatever you think he needs to be chief, but no one attacks all the business people like Zuckerberg and dozens of other people who dropped out of college to start a business and be super successful. I have no idea if Patrick Nikolai is a good leader, or any other CEO with no degree, but if the people who work for him, like him and respect him as a boss, then I’d say he’s doing a good job. A good leader doesn’t need a piece of paper to make him a good leader. A certification on a piece of paper doesn’t automatically make you a good leader of people.

    If that was the case, every person with a degree would be a CEO.

    Go attack Steve Jobs or Zuckerberg for not having a degree. The guys who created the most successful companies in this area do not have a piece of paper that says they took 4 years of college.

    Wait there are more. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey doesn’t have a degree. Neither does Fitbit creator. There is literally dozens of examples. Google yourself.

    Would love to read an opinion piece from Suds on all those CEOs who do not have the degrees and credentials to lead their companies. I’ll wait for that opinion piece by Suds. But he won’t, he doesn’t have the fortitude and courage to do so because he selects information to fit his narrative and won’t comment on the other facts that go against and make his opinion obsolete and inaccurate.

    Do Better CSC in your weak argument because Suds getting 60% vote literally means nothing with a 2 person race and the opponent is also a no name. A 10% change in vote would means he lost. It’s also not impressive specially with money backing him by a billion dollar company and the opponent can barely get to a 5 digit number of donations. And that goes for all these council members who are backed by our business in the north part of town.

    • Buchser Alum 8 months ago
      Reply

      Do Better Suds,
      .
      I have never attacked chief Nikolai. I do have questions why he is paid so much more than chiefs of similar sized cities and even much larger ones especially since he also has two assistant chiefs who are paid so much more than assistant chiefs and even chiefs of much larger cities. And also especially since chief Nikolai does not have the education that is typical for police chiefs of a city our size or smaller.
      .
      I do not need to have concern for Mark Zuckerberg because my tax dollar do not go toward his pay and he is not a public employee but the CEO of a company that he founded.
      .
      You need to do better in the analogies you use to try to argue a position that you should do better and reconsider. This should not be a political issue. I am completely against this council majority on stadium issues these past few years as well as many things connected to the stadium. But there are good questions being raised about how we determine who is our chief of police and how much the chief gets paid.

      • Do Better Suds 8 months ago
        Reply

        Buchser Alum,

        Just think why Suds and his political ally’s want an appointed Chief. The exact same reason is why they fired the City Manager and City Attorney. They want a City Manager to pick a Chief that aligns with them and the 9ers to save money. Everything is about money and power. Follow the trail and it leads to money and power.

        The city council can’t get a Chief that follows their directives if it’s an elected position. If the Chief is appointed and the City Manager won’t fire the Chief for not helping a certain company or whatever they want, guess what happens….city council majority will fire the City Manager (like in the recent past) until they find someone who does fire the Chief, if it’s an appointed position.

        People don’t realize that an elected Chief position is the best thing for a city dealing with a corrupt city council, which is what we have going on right now. Specially with politicians who are openly assisting private companies who need the Police to work at their building.

        I’ll stick with an elected Polcie Chief until there is a legit reason to get rid of it. To my knowledge, there hasnt never been corruption that any Chief has brought to the city even remotely close like our current council has brought.

        • Buchser Alum 8 months ago
          Reply

          Do Better Suds,
          .
          I understand and have concerns about this city council majority having the ability to appoint a police chief in order to install one who is more friendly to the Forty Niners in a way that is bad for the city.
          .
          However the fact remains that this is the standard way of choosing police chiefs in cities across California and the United States. Even if the chief is to be elected then it is not a good thing for there to be a requirement of residency in order to run for election. That greatly restricts the pool of candidates.
          .
          You should also consider that the political nature of the office when it is gained through election. The key to winning the election is support by the SCPOA at least historically. I do not think it is a good thing for police oversight that the chief needs to please his employees politically in order to get and keep his job.
          .
          In theory the chief should be answerable to the people of the city who elect him. But the reality is that almost nobody in the city does the work to educated themselves on the elections for police chief or other local ones. So the political power of the SCPOA for election of the SCPD police chief is the biggest force. It has been and we will see if the Forty Niners try to become a force as well.
          .
          I agree that at least one reason the current council majority wants to change the chief to an appointed position is to get Nikolai out because he is a political opponent to them.
          .
          But you should consider that one reason that Gillmor and Watanabe want to keep it an elected position is because Nikolai is a political ally of theirs.

  6. Lacking morals 8 months ago
    Reply

    Suds has no morals and should resign.

    Didn’t he admit under oath that Becker told him about leaking the grand jury case? Suds didn’t proactively report this crime to anyone to my knowledge. He didn’t call up the DA’s grand jury investigation and admit it. He was going to stay silent to protect his political ally, it wasn’t until he was brought under oath and admitted it to save his own backside.

    Zero morals. Resign Suds.

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