Raises for two Santa Clara department heads dominated most of the discussion at this week’s City Council meeting.
At its regular Tuesday night meeting, the Council discussed whether to give Police Chief Mike Sellers a cost-of-living raise and another 4 percent raise for City Manager Deanna Santana. Santana’s raise, less than 6 months after her start date, was part of her contract, which stipulated that she would receive raises at the same rate as other members of the Unclassified Management Employees, aka Unit 9.
The 4 percent raise, retroactive from December 2017, and another 4 percent raise to kick in this December amounts to more than a $30,000 raise for Santana, bringing her yearly salary to over $400,000.
Council Member Dominic Caserta, who opposed the amount of Santana’s contract when it was first proposed, took issue with the lack of human resources employees available at the meeting to answer his questions. Santana said Liz Brown, the Director of Human Resources, took a sick day, and Brown’s subordinate had a “daycare issue” that made her unavailable.
[Update: Sources inside City Hall say that HR Manager Liz Brown was directed not to come to work on Tuesday, despite the fact that she was the most qualified person to provide information about questions concerning the salaries of the City Manager and Police Chief.]
“I have been on this dais 12 years, and I have never directed HR questions to the City Attorney,” he said. “Someone else should have been here … this is obnoxious.”
Caserta said at a time when other City employees have been tightening their belts—some accepting only 1 or 2 percent raises—such an expenditure didn’t seem prudent.
However, Mayor Lisa Gillmor said the provision is “nothing new” and that the majority of the Council agreed to it when they hired Santana, so Caserta has nothing to be “unhappy” about. Caserta took issue with Gillmor’s characterization, saying just because he disagreed didn’t mean he was unhappy.
Caserta wasn’t alone in thinking Santana’s raise was out of line. Council mainstay Deborah Bress agreed.
“We are giving out some phenomenal raises,” she said. “And I haven’t seen any additional revenue coming into the City … we are going down the rathole again.”
The Council voted 6-1 to approve the new Unit 9 pay schedule, which included Santana’s raise. Caserta was the lone “no” vote.
Also up for discussion was paying Chief Sellers $22,558 of retroactive pay for a cost-of-living erroneously put in place in late 2016. Since approvals to elected officials’ pay must be approved in a public meeting, the Council needed to retroactively approve money Seller’s began receiving. Increases in Seller’s salary also kept pace with increases in Unit 9’s pay.
Sellers began receiving the pay—minus any merit-based raises as elected officials do not receive merit-based raises—but then stopped when the fact that the proper process was not followed came to light. Part of the reason for the raise was that with salary ceilings for appointed City employees, Seller’s was earning only 4 percent more than the Assistant Police Chief.
“There should be a larger separation between a department head and his or her second in command than 4 percent,” Sellers said.
On average, he said, in Santa Clara, that separation is around 23 percent. Sellers said he agrees that there should be transparency and hopes that nobody “assigns blame or points fingers.”
Many members of the Council said the documenting was not up to snuff.
Council Member Teresa O’Neill said City Hall is a “mish mosh of policies” and “dusty file folders,” adding that everyone agrees that “this has been botched.”
Still, Bress wasn’t keen to let anyone off the hook so easily. She said the City is “infested with people who are not accountable,” saying the Council’s reaction to it was a “Keystone Cops situation.”
“How about firing them when they screw up?” she said. “This city is completely out of control,” she later added.
In the end, the first motion to determine how to set the salary for elected City officials, i.e., Police Chief and City Clerk, passed unanimously. That motion specified that the City Manager and City Attorney return to the Council with details on how each option—a charter amendment, a resolution, using the salary setting committee—would look if put in place.
However, the second motion to pay Seller’s retroactive raise proved more divisive. Several times during the discussion speakers conflated the two topics.
Gillmor said it was “completely confusing,” adding that the Council’s decision wouldn’t “fix anything at all.”
“We are just pushing this problem forward,” she said. “This is just putting a Band-Aid on this.”
Caserta said paying the money to Sellers was about “equity and fairness.”
The second motion passed 4-3 with Gillmor, Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe and Council Member Debi Davis voting “no.”
Housing and Urban Development
The Council also voted unanimously to make a one-time $45,000 withdrawal from the general fund to bolster social services in the City.
The topic came up as part of a presentation by Jonathan Veach, the City’s Housing Director.
Representatives from social service organizations including the Bill Wilson Center, the Santa Clara Senior Center, Nextdoor Solutions, Long Term Care, Silicon Valley Independent Living Center and the YWCA, touted their organizations’ services to the Council. Most of them asked for money.
O’Neill said there is “not an agency that pulls all these services together.” She said there should be more done to “fill in these gaps.”
Davis said she would like to “make this a priority,” adding that she didn’t like to see nonprofits “begging” for money.
Consent Calendar Items Pulled
A $500,000 California Department of Transportation grant will help make upgrades to sidewalks and truncated domes—“bumpy yellow” curb surfaces—on Agnews Road but will not provide money to improve the traffic signal there.
Watanabe pulled the item, saying that she has heard a lot of people “complain about that intersection” and suggested changing the traffic signal system there to prevent cars from getting hit by trains—something that has happened at the crossing.
Another item pulled was the Santa Clara Convention Center & Visitors Bureau quarterly financial report. O’Neill wanted to know what methodology was being used to track economic impact of the Convention Center.
Lisa Moreno, General Manager at the Convention Center, said economic impact is tracked through how many hotel rooms are rented and through “other economic calculators.”
The Council will meet again 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 3; a special study session to discuss the City Clerk’s vacancy will be held 7 p.m. Thursday, March 29. Both meetings will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.