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Power To Your Voice

Point – Counterpoint: Measure B, City of Santa Clara

One of the biggest issues facing the City of Santa Clara on the March 5 is Measure B – a ballot measure designed to change the City’s Charter and make the position of police chief appointed by the city manager instead of the current system in which the chief is elected. Because this is a major issue facing the City, The Weekly has reached out to both the Yes on Measure B and No on Measure B campaigns to offer a point/counterpoint to the argument.

Christine Koltermann, who served on the Charter Review Committee that recommended the charter change wrote the Yes on Measure B responses. Santa Clara Police Chief Pat Nikolai wrote the No on Measure B responses.

Both sides were asked similar questions and their responses are presented to you unedited.

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Why do you believe Santa Clara’s police chief should be appointed?

Koltermann: The current elected system does not give voters a choice. In 6 of the last 9 elections, one candidate for police chief ran unopposed. It’s deceptive to give voters a ballot with only one candidate who has been pre-selected for them.

Residency limits who can be chief. Data from City Staff show only 10 out of 153 sworn police officers live here so the candidate pool is slim. Highly qualified internal candidates who are nonresidents, such as assistant chiefs, are not eligible.

Santa Clara is the last city in California to elect its police chief. Appointing the police chief would depoliticize the position.

Police chief is an administrative position which should be appointed by the City Manager like all other department heads. An appointed police chief would be hired based on qualifications and experience, receive annual evaluations, be accountable for job performance, and be required to maintain exemplary professional conduct.

Why do you believe Santa Clara’s police chief should be elected?

Nikolai: Public safety and accountability. As an elected Chief, public safety is the only priority. The chief is insulated from politics. Proponents of Measure B allege the opposite, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter who the council majority is, the elected Chief’s only duty is to ensure the safety of Santa Clara. They are free to speak against the council majority and not have to worry about losing their job. An appointed Chief will have their own self-interests as part of their decision-making process. Would an appointed Chief have called out the council majority based on a Civil Grand Jury report? Or when a council member was indicted? Not if they wanted to keep their job. An elected Chief is accountable to the voters, not any special interest. When you look at the money that special interests have poured into Santa Clara council races, this independence is priceless.

One of the many common refrains in this debate has been the concept of tradition, Santa Clara has always done it this way, but the police system has changed. How has the role of police chief changed within the City of Santa Clara over the years?

Koltermann: Santa Clara has changed dramatically since the Charter was adopted in 1952, growing by 987% from 11,702 residents in 1950 with a majority white population to a diverse population of 127,151 in 2021.

The police chief has not always been elected in Santa Clara; the 1952 charter was adopted with an appointed system.

“Santa Clara has always done it this way” was used to try to keep our former discriminatory seat system of Council elections; voters wisely chose to change the charter to have 6 districts in accordance with the judge’s ruling in the CVRA lawsuit. Our district system gives us a Council which better represents our diverse population.

The San Jose Mercury News notes that “having an elected chief has created ridiculous lines of authority” including “the two assistant police chiefs report to the city manager. And the city manager hires and disciplines officers.”

Created by Yes on Measure B Campaign
Created by Yes on Measure B Campaign

Nikolai: While the tools have changed, the basics of police work, and the role of Police Chief, have remained the same. The biggest change is that the public has unprecedented transparency into the world of policing. And what has that transparency shown? That Santa Clara Police Officers are some of the best. They continue to provide exceptional service to the community, responding to calls that other jurisdictions would simply ignore. The role of the Chief is to ensure that this level of service is the standard. This is done by ensuring that the proper resources are dedicated appropriately. For example, expanding the traffic unit and re-establishing a school unit. It is also the Chief’s responsibility to ensure that every employee at the department provides this level of service daily. This message is instilled in our employees from their first day on the job and continues to be reinforced every day.

Do you believe the current qualifications for Santa Clara police chief helps the City acquire the best talent to address these changes?

Koltermann: While all other cities in California set their own qualifications for appointed chief of police, Santa Clara’s Charter follows State Law minimum requirements for County Sheriff, which is a high school diploma and four year’s experience in law enforcement. Our Charter limits Santa Clara’s ability to establish its own specific requirements for police chief. An appointed police chief process would allow Santa Clara to tailor the qualifications for police chief to better fit the specific needs and priorities of our community, and allow for stakeholder input to city staff for developing the qualifications Santa Clarans would like to have in our police chief. An appointed position would allow Santa Clara to cast a wide net, perform a nationwide search, and attract candidates with the education, supervisory experience in law enforcement, and qualifications necessary to effectively lead the police department and address the evolving needs of our diverse community.

Nikolai: The Charter stipulates that the Chief must have the same qualifications as a candidate for the office of Sheriff. This ensures that Chief will be a sworn police officer with a significant amount of training and experience. The other requirement is that the candidate be a resident of Santa Clara. I would argue that this requirement is a key aspect of the Chief’s job. Being a member of the community ensures that the Chief will be responsive to residents’ needs, experiences local issues first hand and will be an active member in local programs. (I’m a board member of the Mission City Community Fund and a dues paying member of the Senior Center). Would a commuting Chief care as much about a neighbor’s concerns?

The Police Officer’s Association has consistently backed candidates for police chief. As an association that represents the entirety of the SCPD, do you believe it is okay for the SCPOA to endorse candidates and why or why not?

Koltermann: According to the list of who is represented by SCPOA on their website, the SCPOA does not represent the entirety of SCPD because upper management is not represented.

Public employee unions are legally allowed to endorse candidates. The problem arises when voters aren’t given a choice because there’s only one police chief candidate on the ballot chosen by SCPOA months prior to the election, and when other highly qualified candidates, such as former assistant police chief Dan Winter, are discouraged from running (SVV, 2019).  SCPOA’s selection of and endorsement of only one candidate for police chief does a disservice to voters.

A separate entity, the SCPOA political action committee is funding the campaign to keep the chief elected. FPPC filings indicate this PAC is receiving tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from outside of Santa Clara (SVV, 2024). Santa Clarans are weary of outside entities funding political campaigns here.

Nikolai: The Police Officers’ Association (POA) does not represent the entirety of the department. They are the association for sworn officers, sergeants and lieutenants only. They do not represent command staff level officers or any of the professional staff. I am not a member of the POA, but in my opinion it is completely appropriate for the POA to endorse a candidate. Other POA’s weigh in on their Chief selections, even when the candidates are appointed. POA’s want the same thing everyone else does, a strong leader who knows the department and City they are going to represent. That is why most Chiefs are promoted from within. Of the 11 municipal agencies in this county, 9 have Chiefs promoted from within. The fallacy of the “nationwide search” is spouted by proponents of Measure B, but the numbers don’t lie.

Will the Yes on Measure B campaign support an elected police chief if voters decide to go that route?

Koltermann: Santa Clarans will support our police department regardless of the outcome of this election, and want SCPD to be a desirable place of employment. However, most Santa Clarans do not support politics meddling in our chief position.  Anything less than an appointive position will always allow political influence in the police chief job, from the promotion of only one candidate on the ballot, to endorsements, fundraising, and campaigning, none of which have anything to do with the actual job of police chief.  For that reason, Santa Clarans must improve how we select Santa Clara’s police chief by voting Yes on Measure B to amend our City Charter to appoint our police chief.  Our Charter is a living document which needs to be updated periodically to better meet the needs of our growing and diverse community, and voting Yes on Measures A and B will serve our community well.

Will the Police Officers Association support an appointed police chief if voters decide to go that route?

Nikolai: The POA will support the voter’s decision 100%.  That is the essence of democracy. And that is why we are fighting so hard to defeat this measure. At its core, Measure B takes away the voice of the people. How does changing a democratically elected position to a bureaucratically appointed one empower our community? It doesn’t. Don’t be fooled. Vote No on Measure B. Keep your voice. Keep your Chief.

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6 Comments
  1. CSC 5 months ago
    Reply

    Nikolai is completely out of touch with executive police leadership. Every police chief in the State makes public safety their #1 priority and, unlike Nikolai, they’re all APPOINTED. Nikolai’s “not have to worry about losing their job” comment is refuted by Police Chiefs across the state to include Police Chief Max Bosel who provided expert witness testimony to the Charter Review Committee; watch Chief Bosel’s statements here: https://youtu.be/u0sLWt8qrsE?t=3686
    .
    Police Chief Mike Sellers warned about the negative affects local Santa Clara politicians (namely Lisa Gillmor) have on the police department: “Our city has been subjected to a level of hatred and nastiness that has never been seen before. It is being compounded by your lack of leadership, honesty and transparency,” he told Mayor Gillmor in a 2017 speech on the matter. “This unnecessary burden is affecting the fine men and women that serve this great city.” https://sanjosespotlight.com/santa-clara-police-chief-mike-sellers-will-retire-before-term-ends/
    .
    No special interest? The SCPOA has received more than $30k from an out of area PAC to fight Measure B. The only reason Nikolai is the police chief is because of special interest money. He’s either completely daft or intentionally trying to mislead voters. Don’t believe Nikolai’s ignorance.
    .
    Santa Clara’s police department has the highest percentage of officers arrested and convicted of crimes in the Bay Area. Gilbert, Cooke, Rojas, Leipelt, Nguyen, Burde, Green, the list is long to include Amanda Nash who is currently being prosecuted in the criminal system and faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Data provided by the City of Santa Clara to the California State DoJ shows between 2016-2021 Sunnyvale and Campbell had no officers accused of crimes, Mt. View had 2, Santa Clara had 17. Wow, SEVENTEEN, that’s not a typo, that’s bad leadership under an elected system. You can look up that information for yourself here: https://policescorecard.org/ca/police-department/santa-clara
    .
    Nikolai states a candidate for police chief has the same requirements as the basic-level requirements for a Sheriff in California, but he intentionally avoids telling voters the minimum requirement is a G.E.D. and four years basic experience in law enforcement – a candidate could be a 25 year old jail guard with no street experience. We live in a highly educated city, county, and region – we should not accept ‘minimum’ requirements set at the state level. Because of union pressure and backroom dealings, Nikolai is the second highest salaried police chief in the entire state! Not S.F., not S.J., not L.A., not Beverly Hills – literally Nikolai in Santa Clara collects more than $400k salary. Read from Police Chief Steve Lodge how inadequate Nikolai’s credentials are: https://www.svvoice.com/letters/letter-from-steve-lodge/
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    Nikolai is wrong about the 11 APPOINTED police chiefs in Santa Clara County. 5 of the 11 appointed police chiefs – Ngo, Binder, Espinoza, Averiett, and Carroll – started their careers at other agencies and all 11 had to compete for their role as Chief of Police. Because of the residency requirement, Santa Clara’s two second highest-ranking officers – Asst. Chief’s Derek Rush and Wahid Kazem – can’t be considered or ”promoted from within” as Chief of Police because they live in Gilroy and San Jose respectively. Vote YES on Measure B so that we can pick from highly qualified candidates and not have junior officers with no police management experience end up on a ballot.
    .
    The only ‘democracies’ that have one candidate on a ballot are North Korea, Russia, Yemen. Measure B doesn’t take away anyone’s voice. No resident in Sunnyvale, San Jose, Campbell, Mountain View Milpitas or any other California city has claimed their voices are silenced because their city appoints a police chief. As Rev. Jethro Moore, II states, “those [police chiefs] who were hired were more responsive to the community than those who were elected.”
    .
    Your fellow Santa Clara Residents Ask you to Vote YES on MEASURE B!

  2. TriggerWarningForYou 5 months ago
    Reply

    An appointed Police Chief (and appointed City Manager) will do whatever Jed York wants them to do through his 5 lackeys he has installed in the Santa Clara City Council.

    • CSC 5 months ago
      Reply

      Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. That’s all your comment is.
      .
      To everyone else reading this, be optomistic. There are no political controversies in the cities next to us because the police union can’t interfere with the APPOINTED police chief. Santa Clara Council Members are prohibited to speaking with city employees without the City Manager’s approval and supervision. Think about this rationally: every Santa Clara police officer from recruit all the way up to the two Assistant Police Chiefs have always reported to the City Manager, the Chief of Police reporting to him with higher requirements will actually improve policing.
      .
      Don’t fear these Trumpters pushing a “constitutional sheriff” whacky mindset through Santa Clara. Vote YES on Measure B for a better Santa Clara.
      .
      Watch testimony from Executive Police Leaders here: www.AppointPoliceChief.com/team-1

      • Buchser Alum 5 months ago
        Reply

        CSC,
        .
        None of our neighboring cities have a corporate special interest that has spent millions of dollars on local council and mayoral elections in order to promote their chosen candidates for office like the Forty Niners have.
        .
        None of our neighboring cities have that same corporate special interest have millions of dollars per year on the line when it comes to public safety expense accounting like the Forty Niners do with public safety expenses for Levi’s Stadium operations.
        .
        I believe that it is reasonable to feel uncertainty and doubt about a police chief who is beholden to the city council or the city manager who is beholden to the city council through appointment and potential firing by the city council when the city council majority has all received millions of dollars of campaign support from the Forty Niners.
        .
        But despite this I still support a Yes vote because I do believe that it is only through appointment that we can always consider amongst the best possible candidates to fill the job of police chief. And because I do not believe that it is good for the SCPOA to be the group that has the biggest influence over who will be chief.

  3. Fred 5 months ago
    Reply

    Amusing to hear Nikolai bring up the civil grand jury thing, and make out like he did the right thing. The man is seriously deluded.

  4. W.S. 5 months ago
    Reply

    TWFY – Your response does not make any sense. If Jed York and the 5 City Council members wanted to get someone they endorse as the elected Police Chief, wouldn’t they have done so in the previous election? Pat Nikolai ran completely unopposed. In addition, if the voters approve Measure B and Pat Nikolai re-applies for his job and is found to be THE MOST qualified candidate, he keeps his job. Are you now saying that Pat Nikolai will now become a spokesperson/supporter of Jed York and now do his bidding because he is appointed?

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