Voters will fill District 5’s Council seat after two Santa Clara Council Members put the kibosh on the vacancy appointment in a move that earned them scorn from the public, other members of the Council and City employees.
During a special City Council meeting Monday night, Vice Mayor Karen Hardy and Council Member Raj Chahal killed the appointment by telling the Council they would abstain on subsequent voting if it would not consider a candidate based solely on his application.
In order to appoint someone, five of the remaining six Council members need to agree on a candidate.
The declaration caused every other member of the Council to say they were “disappointed” in the duo, accusing them of “hijacking” the process. Many accused the two of “wasting people’s time.”
“You come here tonight with this little plan of yours, and I know it was a plan,” Council Member Debi Davis said, addressing Chahal. “You waste people’s time and all because of what you want. You are smiling, Raj, and you think this is so freaking funny.”
The seat became vacant less than a month ago when Patricia Mahan resigned citing health issues. The Council unanimously agreed to appoint, but Hardy and Chahal have both said they favor turning the decision over to the voters.
Prior to interviewing the seven candidates, Chahal made a motion to nominate Suds Jain. Jain serves on the Planning Commission, has served on the Charter Review Committee, the Citizens Advisory Committee and regularly speaks as a member of the public at Council meetings. He has run for Council and sought appointment previously.
Based on his qualifications, Hardy and Chahal believe Jain is a run-away choice and the only candidate qualified to step into the role until the November 2020 general election. Hardy said, since there wasn’t consensus about the only person she thought capable of filling the vacancy, she would rather let the voters choose.
Even City Attorney Brian Doyle and City Clerk Hosam Haggag spoke at the public comment’s lectern. Doyle, a resident of District 5, mentioned Hardy’s previous statement about representing everybody in the City, not just those in her district.
“You owe it to me, as a voter, to consider other candidates,” he told her. “Follow through on your statement.”
While Haggag, also a District 5 resident, acknowledged the two’s right to block the appointment, he said it would have been more appropriate at the previous meeting when the Council unanimously agreed to appoint.
However, Chahal maintained that he followed the rules, saying the process allows for Council Members to move to appoint someone based only on his or her application. He said he wanted to avoid what happened in 2018 where many accused two other Council members — Pat Kolstad and Patricia Mahan — of waiting until the eleventh hour and deliberately blocking the appointment. He added that he believes no matter when he raised the topic, he would have received criticism for not doing so sooner.
Several members of the Council voted to appoint Jain at the June 2018 meeting.
Chahal called the decision a “head and heart” decision.
Still, both Hardy and Chahal absorbed the ire of other members of the Council and the public. Mayor Lisa Gillmor and others — including one of the applicants, Brian Lowery — called the move “sabotage.” Gillmor had no shortage of vitriol, calling it “unfair,” “inconsiderate,” “rude” and “ridiculous.” She said she “didn’t buy” Chahal and Hardy’s reasoning.
But Chahal fired back.
“I respect all eight candidates. I respect each and every candidate,” he said. “I respect your decision making. I respect the majority decision, over here. Please stop this thinking that somebody is making a decision that is disrespectful when you don’t like it.”
Anthony Becker, a previous Council and mayoral candidate, agreed with Chahal and Hardy, saying the voters should decide and that, as he has several times before, that the appointment process is “politicking.” Becker contends rumors were abound in 2016 when the Council appointed Watanabe that she was hand-picked — calling it “corruption.”
With so much activity in District 5, critics in the audience, including Doyle, said it deserves representation between now and the November election.
Gillmor said the addition of districts makes the need for an appointment more dire, adding that the district has no “champion” because the rest of the Council is not accountable to it.
“It changes the entire ball game here,” she said. “At the end of the day, they are not accountable to the voters of District 5.”
The Council meets again Tuesday, March 17 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.