The Rajeev Batra Report Card
By Robert Haugh
Interim City Manager Rajeev Batra will preside over his last meeting tonight when the Stadium Authority meets. This will be the end of his Santa Clara tenure where he served for 13 years as Public Works Director before being appointed Interim City Manager in April, 2016.
We circulated a questionnaire to some City Hall insiders to grade Batra on his 17 months in the top position. Batra declined an interview to discuss the results.
Batra came in and was a “breath of fresh air” according to a couple people. His style was much nicer than his predecessor Julio Fuentes who was known for being a tough boss. Staff meetings were more positive and organized our sources said. But later when things went wrong, Batra was “quick to point fingers” like when he was targeted as the leak of the city staff response to the Harvey Rose audit but seemed to blame Assistant City Manager Ruth Shikada.
Many sources said his style led to poor morale among city staff who felt there was no strong and trustworthy leadership coming from the city manager’s office.
Knowledge and Competency
Batra knew public works, but didn’t know much about all the other city departments. “He never put in the effort or time to learn,” was a common comment. Batra was also out of the office a lot, frequently on Fridays. We noticed at council meetings that Batra embarrassed himself by not knowing basic things like the Stadium Authority is not in the City Charter.
He was unprepared in staff meetings and subcommittee meetings, too, our sources said.
The council didn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in Batra either on major things. We reported on how his draft response to the Grand Jury on stadium issues was so weak, that the council asked Interim City Attorney Brian Doyle to rewrite it.
When Batra became city manager, he said that he wanted to connect with the community directly. To his credit, he had a handful of evening meetings with Santa Clara residents. But the people who attended said the meetings were brief (sometimes an hour or less) and uninformative. He never effectively used social media either, a real lost opportunity.
Openness and Transparency
This is a big deal to anyone who covers City Hall and to residents, too. There’s been a lot of progress since the change from Mayor Jamie Matthews to Mayor Lisa Gillmor when it comes to transparency. But Batra seemed to resist it. A lot of times he looked like he was working for the 49ers and not Santa Clara.
When the 49ers refused to give the auditors documents that they’re required to give to the city, Batra defended the team rather than stand up for the city and residents. He even tried to give the 49ers cover by saying that he went to the team’s headquarters to view the documents but had no idea what they meant. Huh?
Batra even got into an argument at the City Council meeting with Doyle when Batra only presented the 49ers options for partially opening the Creek Trail on game days and not the option that Doyle came up with to give more public access to the trail.
More recently, Batra allowed the 49ers to make a lengthy presentation about lifting the city’s weekday stadium curfew at a Stadium Authority meeting during an item agendized to discuss “non-NFL Events.” The public did not know it was curfew discussion or many would have showed up they told us. It was not open and transparent government.
Batra was a nice guy who was unfortunately not suited for the job. This led to some bad decisions and poor morale at City Hall during the last 17 months. Sources say he is being unhelpful with the transition, even though that’s the reason he was kept on these last few months.
We hope the next city manager, Deanna Santana, will be a strong and trusted leader who believes in openness and transparency. That would be good for morale and Santa Clara residents.