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Santa Clara City Council’s History of Appointments

Much has been said about Santa Clara Council Members Patricia Mahan and Pat Kolstad not voting for any of the applicants selected to fill the remainder of former Council Member Dominic Caserta’s term. Many residents have been vocal about Mahan’s father receiving an appointment and pointed out that Mayor Lisa Gillmor lobbied to leave a seat vacant in the 1990s. While both of these are facts, the history of Santa Clara appointments shows Mahan and Kolstad continued a solid tradition of appointing residents to Council seats when their term would be long enough to provide insight and effective governing within the City of Santa Clara.

Although resignations and appointments go back to 1933 when then-Mayor Max Kohner died in office, the clearest picture of Council’s history of appointments comes after the City’s new charter was ratified on Apr. 9, 1951 and the Council was called such, beginning on May 19, 1952. Soon after these two events, Ralph Giannini died in office on Dec. 3, 1952 and his seat remained vacant until the next election.

Once the new charter was in effect and Santa Clara’s City Council was official, the first instance of a resignation and subsequent appointment was when then-Mayor Gene Burgess resigned from office on Oct. 8, 1963. His term, which ended in May 1965, was completed by Larry Marsalli, who was appointed to fulfill the final year-and-a-half on Nov. 5, 1963.


Mahan’s father, John, was appointed to a Council seat on Apr. 26, 1977 to complete a term ending in 1979. He was then reelected after serving over a year and a half on Council.

In another long-term appointment, Vern Deto was appointed to Council on Dec. 3, 1985 to complete a term ending in 1979. He, too, was reelected at the end of his appointment.

In the case of Tim Jeffries’ seat, which Gillmor opposed filling, the former-Council Member resigned from Council on Sept. 20, 1994. Jeffries was up for reelection in November of that year, making whoever was appointed essentially ineffective since the election was looming in less than two months.

The next appointment came two years after Jamie Matthews was elected to Council on Nov. 4, 2008. His term, ending November 2012, was cut short when he ran a victorious campaign for Mayor in the Nov. 2, 2010 election. Gillmor was appointed by City Council on Jan. 5, 2011 to finish out the remainder of Matthews’ term, which was nearly a two-year appointment.

Matthews was reelected as Mayor in 2014, only to resign Feb. 9, 2016. Eight days after his resignation, on Feb. 17, 2016, Gillmor was appointed as Mayor to complete the almost two years left of Matthews’ term. Gillmor’s seat, which was up in November 2016, was filled by Kathy Watanabe, who was appointed on Mar. 7, 2016.

When Dominic Caserta resigned on May 15, 2018, there was less than six months left on his Council term. Council began the appointment process throughout the month of May, and set Jun. 12 as the date to review all final candidates. Prior to the June Council meeting, Mahan and Kolstad had stated their support for leaving the seat vacant until November, but — and likely without much choice — they went through the process of interviewing potential candidates, only to decide in the early morning hours of Jun. 13 to not give the deciding yes vote to any of the finalists. Had they approved any one of the candidates, that person would only have served a term of less than five months before the November election.

To date, Watanabe’s appointment of approximately eight months prior to an election remains the shortest length of time a Council Member was appointed to serve prior to an election. To date, the shortest amount of time a seat has been left vacant was two months, with the longest being the current decision to leave Caserta’s seat vacant for less than half a year.

Visit to see a complete listing of Santa Clara’s City Council history.


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