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Santa Clara Considers Changing Police Chief and City Clerk System

Santa Clara's Council will create a charter review committee to look at how the police chief and city clerk are appointed.

The City Council will appoint a charter review committee to consider changing the elected police chief and city clerk positions to jobs appointed by the city manager. The decision was made at a June 6 study session. Santa Clara’s 1952 charter established both positions as elected and voters must approve changes.

Even before discussing the proposal, the council spent half an hour talking about whether to discuss it at all.

Council Member Kathy Watanabe said “the optics were not good” to have this on the agenda without the public being “made more aware of and have better notice.” The question was introduced in early 2021, again in August 2022, and has been on the Tentative Meeting Agenda Calendar (TMAC).

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Mayor Lisa Gillmor was dismissive. “They’ve [her council colleagues] already made the decision to go to the charter review committee,” she said. “They’re saying they’re not listening to you [residents]…We don’t have to put something on the ballot that the residents don’t want.”

Familiar Attacks

The rest of the three-hour discussion was dominated by opponents who repeatedly attacked the proposal as a 49ers-led conspiracy and demanded that the Council listen to “the people” and abandon the idea of a ballot measure to decide the question.

“Jed York wants to pick our police chief, and you guys don’t even want to know it,” said Debbie Tryforos.

“Thirty-three thousand votes came in for Chief Nikolai, who ran unopposed,” said Lee Broughman. “I think that should tell you something.”

“I have heard from no one that they want to change the elected police chief,” said Gillmor.

She contended that the reason for this was a “vendetta.”

Council Member Karen Hardy noted the apparent contradiction.

“Those who want to keep the elected police chief seem to be afraid of a charter review committee and an election, which makes no sense to me,” she said. “If you’re so adamant about the people having a voice, they should have it.”

Police Union Weighs In With Members’ Money

Jeremy Schmidt, president of the police union — the Santa Clara Police Officers Association —said the union had “a number of concerns.”

Schmidt referenced a “confidential”* police union poll that found that although 66% of 350 respondents didn’t know the police chief was elected, 73% of them preferred an elected police chief to one described as being “appointed by city leaders.”

The police union has already posted a petition “to protect the elected police chief,” a website and Facebook ads.

“Our City is unique, and our elected chief is unique,” said Schmidt, who followed up with an offer of union money to the City.

“I’m going to issue you guys a challenge tonight,” he continued. “I’m going give you guys a $432,000 offer because putting this on the ballot is $432,000…If you want another one of these [union-run opinion poll], I’ll do one right now at the cost of the men and women of the Santa Clara Police Officers Association. I’ll call the company as soon as I leave. But I want one agreement that the majority of this council agrees to act on the results of the survey.”

Are Unopposed Candidates ‘Choices?’

Schmidt’s remarks drew a sharp response from Council Member Suds Jain.

“Santa Clarans don’t have a choice in selecting their Chief…current Chief of Police, Pat Nikolai, ran unopposed [in the ] last two elections,” as have most chiefs in the city’s history, Jain said.

“I hear that Dan Winter decided not to run against Pat Nikolai in 2020 because POA vowed to spend $250K to oppose Dan…[an] Assistant Chief of Police… B.A. in Management, a J.D. from SCU and a member of the California Bar,” Jain said. “Nikolai’s main qualification seems to me that he was POA president for 18 years.”*

“Nikolai is certainly not impartial,” continued Jain, detailing an October 2022 political press conference “illegally held within 100 feet of a ballot box” and, during the election, writing “a public letter to District Attorney Jeff Rosen asking him to investigate findings in the Grand Jury report even though the Grand Jury made no criminal referrals.”

Further, only 12 SCPD officers currently live in Santa Clara, Jain noted and would be eligible to run for police chief. (Note: Neither of Santa Clara’s Assistant Police Chiefs live in the City of Santa Clara.)

Watanabe said she was “frickin’ outraged…at what has been said…The hypocrisy is dripping.” She demanded to know “who helped Council Member Jain with his statement,” adding accusingly, “There’s motivation behind it.”

“No one wrote anything for me,” Jain responded. “I spent hours researching to make sure I had the facts. I resent these false allegations.”

Council Members Change Tack Depending on Who’s Chief

Council Member Kevin Park observed that from the perspective of democracy, “an elected chief makes a lot of sense,” but Council’s discussions are “often” driven “by who the elected police chief is” — i.e. politics.

The last time there was a discussion about making the positions appointed, he said, was because the police chief was Chief Sellers, who had just beaten Gillmor-endorsed Nikolai.

“In the short term…what’s being discussed [is that supporters of election] want chief Nikolai to be the police chief,” said Park.

By way of illustrating the pervasive politics at work, Park noted, “We have council members up here [Watanabe] who could not thank Dan Winter,” the retired assistant police chief now an Intel security director, “for personally delivering COVID test kits to the City. Would not get up off their seats [to] take a picture with Winter.”

Before the vote to move ahead with a charter review, Park expressed frustration at the seeming circular conversation.

“It seems like the one side that’s decided that they don’t want this on the ballot without public input is accusing another side of: wanting to move forward with a work plan to get public input without listening to public input. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Park.

The Council voted 4-3 to appoint a charter review committee of 11 members to be appointed by the City Council in July, with Gillmor, Park and Watanabe voting against. Park said he wanted to investigate other ways besides a charter change of addressing concerns with the elected police chief.

You can find the study session on YouTube at 1:55 through 4:25.

*The poll was titled, “Confidential.”

Santa Clara’s Dual Systems

The background to this discussion is Santa Clara’s atypical police chief and city clerk positions, which have elected figureheads and assistants that do the actual jobs. Santa Clara is California’s only city with an elected police chief; although others have Santa Clara’s two-tier city clerk arrangement.

Prior to 2018, the elected clerk and chief functioned in the same ways as their appointed counterparts, with their compensation treated like that of other city employees. That year, the city council made the elected city clerk a figurehead position, with the actual work of the office going to the Assistant City Clerk.

In 2019, former city manager Deanna Santana advised the council that it was illegal for the police chief’s compensation to be set by the council, and the Council created a Salary-Setting Commission to set the salaries of the clerk, police chief, mayor and council.

In early 2020, Santana created two assistant chief positions reporting to the city manager. These assistants share the management responsibilities of the police department, as well as attending management meetings and signing authority.

“Assistant Chiefs work cooperatively with the Elected Chief and report to the City Manager,” city spokesperson Michelle Templeton told The Weekly.

Currently, only a dozen SCPD officers live in Santa Clara. The Weekly’s research shows that the current elected chief and former police union president Pat Nikolai, has fewer educational and professional qualifications than other police chiefs in California.

Back in 2018, the appointed-vs-elected shoe was on another foot. In February 2018, the Council majority — Gillmor, Watanabe, Teresa O’Neill and Debi Davis — voted for a ballot measure for an appointed clerk. The question should be put to voters, Gillmor said, because “we haven’t checked into that in many decades” and she wanted to “see all our options.”

At that time, Watanabe said it was “important to put this out to the voters to make the decision,” and added some more options to the mix.

“In the cities where the city clerk is appointed, they’re appointed by the City Manager, which makes sense to me,” said Watanabe.

In a 2016 email to a friend that the Weekly received, then-Council Member Teresa O’Neill wrote that the election race between Sellers and Nikolai, “will get more people thinking we need to get rid of the elected police chief.”

The $423,000 cost of a ballot initiative is roughly the annual cost of maintaining Santa Clara’s two-tier system.

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13 Comments
  1. CSC 11 months ago
    Reply

    “I’m going to issue you guys a challenge tonight, I’m going give you guys a $432,000 offer because putting this on the ballot is $432,000…If you want another one of these [union-run opinion poll], I’ll do one right now at the cost of the men and women of the Santa Clara Police Officers Association. I’ll call the company as soon as I leave. But I want one agreement that the majority of this council agrees to act on the results of the survey.” – Jeremy Schmidt
    • Penal Code § 85 PC, it is illegal to bribe a California legislator or use any other corrupt methods, such as menace or deceit, to influence their voting decisions. A legislator includes state legislators and those of a city or county board. https://www.shouselaw.com/ca/defense/penal-code/85/
    • 18 U.S. Code § 597 – Expenditures to influence voting: Whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate; and whoever solicits, accepts, or receives any such expenditure in consideration of his vote or the withholding of his vote Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. . https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/597
    .
    Schmidt is a dolt. He stood in front of an elected body, on the record, and offered money for their vote. Not only did the entire city council witness this, so did the City Manager and City Attorney. Schmidt and any other city employee (peace officer) who actively proposed this should be investigated for potential election crimes. According to the SCPOA’s mission statement, their purpose is to conduct contract negotiations. Therefore, Schmidt’s and the entirety of its members’ interest is financial gain. The City Council should be commended for not accepting Schmidt’s overt and explicit bribe.
    .
    In addition to the above potential illegal offer to elected officials, the underlying reason why California Courts ruled the City of Santa Clara’s city-wide voting system was unconstitutional is the voice of the few isn’t necessarily the voice of the many. In utilitarianism perspective, voting is the morally correct course of action to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/
    .
    “Thirty-three thousand votes came in for Chief Nikolai, who ran unopposed, I think that should tell you something.” said Lee Broughman.
    • According to official North Korean reports, voter turnout is near 100%, and Kim Jong Un runs unopposed in the stage-managed election. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/kim-jong-un-wins-100-votes-north-korea-election-n49011
    .
    Santa Clara residents should feel positive that no credible opposition to moving forward with a Charter Committee Review was offered last week. Hopefully this measure will make it to voters’ ballot in March/November.

    • Buchser Alum 11 months ago
      Reply

      CSC,
      .
      Schmidt was rhetorically grandstanding not genuinely offering money to the city. We all know that it is not the police department’s modus operandi to give money to the people of Santa Clara.
      .
      Everyone knows the score with this. The SCPOA is a political ally of Gillmor’s and Nikolai went from being president of the SCPOA to being the chief of police and is a political ally of Gillmor’s.
      .
      As such the council majority is against Nikolai and the SCPOA and would like to appoint a police chief that is politically beholden to them.
      .
      There are good reasons to have a police chief who need not be a resident of Santa Clara in order to be qualified to be considered as a candidate for police chief. This does not necessarily mean that they must be appointed instead of elected but there are practical reasons for a police chief to be appointed instead of elected. I think appointment makes more sense in the long run.
      .
      In the short run I am concerned about the Forty Niners spending money to promote an end to elected police chiefs and to backchannel discussion with the council majority on appointing a police chief friendly to the Forty Niners. The Forty Niners have a great deal of financial gain to make with a police chief who accounts for use of police resources for stadium operations in a way that is favorable to the Forty Niners.
      .
      Hopefully the Forty Niners would not stoop to this. Hopefully the council majority would not stoop to this.
      .
      We shall see how much the Forty Niners spend on making Santa Clara’s chief an appointed position. If it is like their recent election spending then we know what their agenda is and we know exactly which councilpeople are responsible for putting the Forty Niners in position to spend money to make changes to our city charter.

      • CSC 11 months ago
        Reply

        Buchser: I know the 49ers are a hot button in Santa Clara politics but they are a business just like any other doing business in the city – Related Companies, A Slice of New York Pizza, Advanced Micro Devices, Applied Materials, Intel, Nvidia, etc. Hopefully no company would try to buy political favors or have city inspectors/auditors look the other way.
        .
        There are accouting and audit controls in place to deter misappropriation of city or employee time and materials (T&M), an elected police chief has no audit capability nor do they handle time cards. In Santa Clara, the City Manager is Executive Director of ManCo therefore any assets or personnel utilized is Jovan Grogan’s responsibility. https://www.santaclaraca.gov/home/showpublisheddocument?id=57343
        .
        An appointed police chief would be directly responsible to either the City Manager or City Council, depending on how the city realigns its structure. This is how every non-county entity in California does it and none of those agencies have the amount of cops arrested and convicted of crimes like the City of Santa Clara does.
        .
        I don’t agree with your rhetorical grandstanding perception. Schmidt meant it and he is prepared to pay them off if given the opportunity.

        • Buchser Alum 10 months ago
          Reply

          CSC,
          .
          Thank you for the detail and reassurance that our chief of police would have no ability to be anything but above board and by the book about accounting of manpower and expenses for stadium operations that end up getting billed to the Forty Niners. If this is the case then I would expect the Forty Niners to stay out of any potential public vote over election or appointment of our police chief and if it remains an elected position will stay out of the next election for police chief.
          .
          If they do spend a lot of money in the election then I will expect this signifies that the chief of police can make decisions or take actions that affect the Forty Niners financially.
          .
          The Forty Niners are not “a business just like any other.” Related is not either. Both have spent unprecedented amounts of money in our last mayoral election and the Forty Niners many times more than Related in recent election cycles. The Forty Niners are further different than Related in that they are a business partner of the city’s in a way that is far more intricate and potentially adversarial than what Related’s relationship will be even once they undertake and complete their development across the street from the stadium.
          .
          The Forty Niners are nothing like Slice of New York when it comes to anything including Santa Clara politics. They are also far beyond AMD and Applied and Intel when it comes to Santa Clara politics.
          .
          As for what Schmidt did or did not really mean I will defer to your interpretation since it seems that you are far more familiar with SCPD and SCPOA operations and figures than almost all Santa Clarans. I have been assuming you are a member or work within one or both and so if you say Schmidt was making a genuine offer then I believe you.

          • Buchser 2 10 months ago

            Buchser Alum-hole,
            You seem to have a deep fixation and obsession concerning the 49ers. They appear to occupy a great deal of your small little mind and thoughts. I agree with CSC, the 49ers are a business just like any other. Related is in the same position. You only imagine you know it all.

      • Howard Myers 10 months ago
        Reply

        Mr. Alum,
        I was on a Charter Review Committee a few years ago. We addressed the term limits of mayor/council but did discuss the Chief and Clerk issue. We chose not to pursue this issue due to time constraints.
        At that time I was in favor of appointed. But since then, after having seen the politics involved, and seeing how easy it is for outsiders like york to buy elections I have done a 180.
        If the tilted council can fire a city manager without cause and hire one they like, how far is that from them appointing the chief? That means outside influence can buy a chief, indirectly.
        A better solution is to offer a charter amendment removing the requirement of living in the city.
        Just another expert opinion, you understand.

        • Buchser Alum 10 months ago
          Reply

          Howard,
          .
          My concern over changing from election to appointment of police chief is specifically about the worry that making the police chief serve at the pleasure of the city council will mean that with this city council the chief may be serving at the pleasure of the Forty Niners. And despite CSC’s reassurances I still worry that a police chief can make decisions or take actions that have financial benefits to the Forty Niners at the expense of the city.
          .
          I do agree that it is not good for us to limit the pool of candidates to people who live in the city and I think that at least removing that requirement for election would be a step forward for the city. I do not think that our police chief needs to live in the city at the time of consideration or even after being elected or appointed. I think that they can do just as good a job whether they are living within city borders or a couple miles away in Sunnyvale or Cupertino or San Jose.
          .
          Despite all of this I would also make the point that an outside interest can already buy a chief indirectly if one has enough of an interest that they would spend the money to try to buy the election of someone they choose.
          .
          Whether or not the Forty Niners have such an interest is something we shall see by their behavior when a city charter amendment comes up for vote or if that fails during the next election for chief.
          .
          If they do not spend mountains of money to get a chief of their choosing then I will not be so concerned about them being able to buy a chief by buying city council votes.

          • Buchser 2 10 months ago

            Buchser Alum-hole,
            Your stupid concerns and worries related to the 49ers are due to your self paranoia and delusions.

  2. Walter Johnson 11 months ago
    Reply

    The silicon valley voice again exposes itself as the tool it is

  3. W.S. 10 months ago
    Reply

    I think it is ridiculous in today’s economy to “require” a Police Chief to reside within the city. Does this mean that if the Chief resides in another city, they are not going to support activities within Santa Clara? Having a requirement to reside within the City really makes no sense anymore. With housing prices as they are in the Bay Area, and Santa Clara specifically, not very many people can afford to sell (or would even consider selling) their home to move 1-2 cities closer to where they work. If someone has been in their home for 15-20 years, they are close to paying off that home. Now to sell it and have to purchase another home at likely a considerable increase is simply not going to happen. What was the logic behind the requirement, and does it fully fit in with today’s protection of Santa Clara? Santa Clara needs to revise the Charter to reflect current economics and not keep it locked in the past where homes used to cost $25,000.

    • Buchser Alum 10 months ago
      Reply

      W.S.,
      .
      I do not think we should require the chief of police to live in Santa Clara but not because of expensiveness of housing. The chief makes a salary over 300,000 dollars. And while I do not think if it matters if the chief lives within a few miles of Santa Clara borders I do think it matters if they live in a city where housing is much much cheaper because that would mean living far away.

      • Buchser 2 10 months ago
        Reply

        Buchser Alum-hole,
        Our City requires our Mayor and our City Council Members to be residents. The requirement is currently also exists for our Police Chief. Let’s put it to a vote, and allow our citizens to make the proper decision.

      • Buchser 2 10 months ago
        Reply

        Buchser Alum-hole,
        Almost all civil elections that I know of, residency is a fundamental requirement. Of course, it is relatively easy to “fake” residency. Simply change your address to that of a friend or relative who currently lives in our city. BINGO! Instant residency! It’s actually been done a number of times in our past two city elections. Just ask Lisa Gillmor.
        However, should our Chief of Police be appointed in a similar fashion like our City Manager, that requirement would no longer apply.

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