In the two years Santa Clara City Manager Deanna Santana has been at the City’s helm, her former San José and Sunnyvale colleagues — and some of their colleagues — have been hired into a striking number of City management jobs and are receiving the City’s top salaries.
Five of Santa Clara’s 10 most-highly paid (base salary) City employees — after Santana — are her former colleagues. Santana and these top earners account for about $2 million in salary alone and nearly another million in additional pay and benefits.
In two years, there were five hires over $300,000, and all of them were Santana’s former colleagues. Of nine hires and promotions to salaries at the top of the pay scale, the majority (5) went to Santana’s colleagues. They also received hefty raises from their previous jobs — some topping $100,000. No promoted City employees during that time received raises of similar magnitude.
Half of the City’s 12 departments are now headed by Santana’s former colleagues, with three promoted to top jobs in under two years.
Doing the Numbers on New Hires
Of 74 Santa Clara City management jobs that were filled in the last two years, 60% (42) were new hires and 40% (28) were internal promotions (including one re-hire) of City employees who pre-date Santana. Recently hired Santana colleagues, who were subsequently promoted, filled the remaining three.
Over half — 22 — of those new management hires formerly worked with Santana in San José (1999-2011) or Sunnyvale (2014-2017) — several in both cities — or worked with her San José colleagues Mark Danaj and Nadine Nader Kayali during their tenure in Manhattan Beach (2014-2018).*
To be considered former Santana colleagues, people had to have worked in San José and/or Sunnyvale a substantial amount of time while Santana was there and held positions that were in, or regularly collaborating and interacting with, the city managers’ office on policy and operations.
Of these 22 individual new hires with prior connections to Santana:
- 16 worked with her in San José
- 10 worked with her in Sunnyvale
- 7 worked with her in both Sunnyvale and San José
- 3 worked with Danaj and Nader Kayali in Manhattan Beach
As neighboring San José is the third largest city in California, it’s logical that many of Santa Clara’s new hires are former San José employees. However, of the remaining external management hires in the last two years only seven are former San José employees — the rest come from San Mateo County (1), Santa Ana (1), San Diego (1), Hayward (1), Port of Oakland (1), out of state (2) and private business (6).
Santa Clara’s Challenges, Santana’s Deep Bench
Santana says that bringing on former colleagues isn’t out of the ordinary. Since her arrival in 2017, she has consistently told Council the City was understaffed to operate properly and manage assets like Levi’s Stadium, and Santa Clara urgently needed to beef up its resources.
Her nearly three decades of experience as San Jose’s Deputy City Manager, Oakland’s City Administrator and Sunnyvale’s City Manager unquestionably gives her a deep bench of experts to bring to the challenges of a fast-growing city with big-city assets to manage.
“Throughout her career, Ms. Santana has engaged in regional projects, mentored up-and-coming professionals, networked locally with others in the field, and collaborated with representatives from other government agencies,” Santa Clara Public Information Officer Lenka Wright said in a statement when The Weekly asked the City Manager about the number of former colleagues she (Santana) had hired.
“As a result Ms. Santana is connected with hundreds of men and women in the profession who would jump at the opportunity to work for her and for a city as exciting as Santa Clara.”
“In spite of the high cost of living and a very competitive job market,” Wright continued, “Santa Clara has been very fortunate in its ability to hire and promote very talented, experienced and highly educated staff who may have known or worked with Ms. Santana in the past.”
Santa Clara Generous Salary Plan
Santa Clara certainly has growing pains and offers resume-building experience for those who can manage them. But the City’s compensation plan, some say, is beyond generous.
- Santana’s associates lead other new hires and promotions in base pay, exclusive of benefits — which can add another 30% to 50% to total compensation. Of these employees:
Eight were hired at the top — or close to the top — of the pay scale at the time they were hired. Only four City management employees pre-dating Santana were promoted to top-of-the-scale salaries. No other employees were hired at the top.
- Five were hired at base salaries over $300,000. All worked with Santana in San José and two worked with her in Sunnyvale as well. No City management employees pre-dating Santana were promoted to salaries over $300,000, nor were any other new management employees hired at that level.
Santana’s colleagues were hired at an average of 26% higher salaries ($51,000) than what they earned in their previous jobs; with a range of increases from 0% to 73% — $0 to $101,000. If the Santana colleagues who were promoted in less than two years are included, the averages increase to 29%, and $135,000.
Promoted Santa Clara employees pre-dating Santana got an average of 21% more ($30,000), with that range going from 4% to 51% — $5,000 to $72,000. These employees had an average of 7 years with the City when they were promoted — ranging from 2 to over 20 years.**
It’s harder to compare the salaries of other new hires because many didn’t work in public sector previously, or come from out-of-state.
New hires that worked in California civil service previously, with no connections to the City Manager, got an average 24% raise ($24,000) coming to Santa Clara, ranging from -17% to 68%, and -$23,000 to $60,000. Excluding two new employees who took pay cuts, the average increase was 31% — $32,477.
The City Manager counters that comparing base salaries isn’t the right standard and comparisons should be based on total compensation. “When it comes to new hire salaries, there is a salary range for each position that allows a hiring manager to take into account an applicant’s education, professional experience and applicable accomplishments,” Santa Clara Director of Communications Lenka Wright wrote in an email. “For the City of Santa Clara to attract top tier talent, the total compensation package must be competitive with local government agencies in the Bay Area.
“Overall, the City of Santa Clara provides a competitive annual base salary when compared to other jurisdictions,” Wright’s email continued. “However, when factoring the cost of benefits (including health care and retirement) that are paid by the employee, the total compensation is significantly lower.
“For example, in comparing the position of Director of Finance with the Sunnyvale, the top range annual salary in Sunnyvale is approximately $1,000 higher. Sunnyvale pays more for the employee’s benefits, including health care and retirement; and the employee pays significantly less for those benefits. Sunnyvale pays approximately $150,000 for benefits, while the employee only pays approximately $16,000 for those benefits. In contrast, Santa Clara pays approximately $132,000 for similar benefits, while the employee pays approximately $47,000 for those benefits.
“When comparing the total compensation package, the Santa Clara total compensation for that same position is about $49,000 less than what is offered in Sunnyvale,” the email continued. “This is a similar trend when comparing Santa Clara’s salaries and benefits to other municipalities and must be accounted for in Santa Clara’s employment offers to remain a competitive employer. If not accounted for, the City of Santa Clara would be unable to recruit because it is unlikely that local job candidates would consider accepting a job offer from Santa Clara if a compensation reduction is required.”
*Danaj and Nader Kayali went from San José to Fremont around 2012, from Fremont to Manhattan Beach around 2015, and in 2018 from Manhattan Beach to Santa Clara.
After Danaj left the Manhattan Beach City Manager’s job in January 2018, he worked for Santa Clara part-time from June 2018 until he became Fremont City Manager in August. Because he was part time on a special assignment and had been unemployed for five months, Danaj’s salary wasn’t included in averages.
To see what some of Santa Clara’s top paid new hires are making and what they made before they came to Santa Clara, see the follow-up piece here.
** This average is conservative because, in some cases, we didn’t have information prior to 2011.
Sources: PublicPay.ca.gov, TransparentCalifornia.com, LinkedIn, the City of Santa Clara, Santaclaraca.gov, SanJoseca.gov, Sunnyvale.ca.gov, Milpitas.ca.gov, PublicPay.ca.gov. Previous salaries are those reported to the State Controller’s office. Where employees left their previous jobs mid-year, numbers were pro-rated. Numbers have been rounded.