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Santa Clara Hires Attorney to Advise on City Manager Dismissal

At a special meeting Tuesday night, the Santa Clara City Council assigned Council Member Karen Hardy to engage an attorney to advise them specifically on questions pertaining to last week’s dismissal of City Manager Deanna Santana, after the attorney that was advising the Council quit without notice. The vote was 6-1, with Council Member Kathy Watanabe opposing.

Acting City Attorney Sujata Reuter told the Council last week that she couldn’t advise them. As an Assistant City Attorney, Reuter reports to the City Manager and would have a conflict of interest.

Watanabe moved to appoint Mayor Lisa Gillmor to represent the Council for the task, but her motion died for lack of a second. Council Member Raj Chahal moved to appoint Hardy.

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“I would like to know under what section of the charter are you using?” demanded Watanabe.  “Because according to sections 704, or 704.2 or 704.3, etc. the Mayor is the presiding officer.” Watanabe then read these sections from the charter.*

“The mayor is the official head of the City,” she continued, “and should have this responsibility. Because I have to ask you…who is going to bring the scope of legal services? The full Council has a right to know, and we can’t hand it off to one council member with no transparency.”

“I’m more than happy to act for the Council,” said Hardy “Everything that was read does not call any specific person [to do this]. Specifically, the Mayor does not have to do that. The Council as a body, the majority makes that decision.”

Council Member Suds Jain expressed skepticism about Watanabe’s interpretation of the Santa Clara Charter.

“According to what Council Member Watanabe said, the Mayor would be the only person who could be the representative for any agency — the Water Board, the VTA,” said Jain. “No council member could do anything, which doesn’t seem to be right to me.”

Council Member Anthony Becker reminded Watanabe that “the advice we were given … is that it can be any member of the City Council. Therefore, we are acting based on that advice.”

Watanabe replied, “I think with the action that’s being taken here is just a clear expression of the disrespect that is constantly shown by certain members of this Council majority. And now [it’s] being shown to the Mayor and taking away a duty that she is duly responsible to handle — and should be — bringing discord. Because like I said…what transparency are we going to have based on certain actions taken again by certain members of this Council?”

Gillmor said she would support the motion.

“I believe that this council has taken actions that I think are not in the best interest of the City,” she explained. “And the longer we go without any legal representation, the more harm they’re going to do. And I think that legal counsel is absolutely, absolutely necessary. I’m sure that we’ll make sure that we get the right legal counsel, the protocols and the conflicts of interests are checked and everything else before they come back to the City Council.

“They have a right to do what they want to do,” Gillmor continued.

She questioned the majority’s failure to delay its meeting last week until another attorney had been hired — a process that would have would have kept Santana at City Hall weeks after the former City Manager knew that the Council intended to dismiss her.

When Becker raised his hand to speak, Gillmor snapped, “Council Member Becker please don’t repeat yourself. Is there anything else you want to say that you haven’t said already?”

Becker thanked Gillmor for supporting the motion and stated the decision to select Hardy was nothing personal.

“Yeah, sure,” Gillmor replied.

As the roll call vote began, Watanabe interrupted, “They may have a right, but no—.”

Gillmor cut Watanabe off, saying “No, no, no, please. Let’s just move on.”

In closed session, the Council also discussed the appointment of an interim city manager, following the dismissal of Deanna Santana last week, but took no action.

*These sections of the Santa Clara Charter establish that the mayor chairs meetings, serves as a political figurehead, and has no other powers different from those of other council members..

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4 Comments
  1. CSC 3 months ago
    Reply

    I listened to a bit of the meeting last night, and reading the summary provided here only reminds me that any typical, contested, change of regime is going to have a bitter exchange by both the outgoing and incoming parties. Meaning there is nothing special of Gillmor and Watanabe’s positions and sentiments, they’re just bitter.
    .
    Once an interim city attorney is settled in, Reuter should be the next one to go. Prior to the City of Santa Clara, she was at the law firm who represented rogue police officers in excessive force incidents that cost city taxpayers millions. Since Deanna Santana came to Santa Clara in 2017, “Sue’s” base salary has gone up more than $100k from $161k in 2017 to $275k in 2020.
    .
    The current city council should be applauded for their efforts, it’s a big enough job representing one’s fellow community members without added weight of corruption and lack of accountability to deal with.

  2. ThayGuy 3 months ago
    Reply

    Now that most Covid restrictions have been lifted, in person council meetings should resume.

  3. Jason Vernsinello 3 months ago
    Reply

    Santa Clara Municipal code could help: https://www.codepublishing.com/CA/SantaClara/#!/SantaClara02/SantaClara0225.html#2.25

  4. SC 2 months ago
    Reply

    Honestly it seems like an incredibly rash and unwise decision by the council majority to fire the City Manager without legal counsel. Unfortunately this doesn’t surprise me, given how Becker behaves, but I was hoping some “moderating” voices would have prevailed.

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