By Robert Haugh
Once in awhile the not so highly respected Santa Clara Weekly stumbles on something. Kudos.
Remember, they leaked a report from the Harvey Rose Measure J Stadium Audit — five days before the highly respected San Francisco Chronicle printed it. The Weekly denied they broke the story. Weird. Maybe they exposed their source.
Now, the Weekly’s discovered that the city hired a public relations firm who was asked to do work before the city could process a contract. Not good. And when city staff finally processed the contract, it was billed to the City’s general fund instead of the Stadium Authority. Doh.
The Weekly says the contractor, Banner Public Affairs, is at fault. Huh?
I’ve worked with Banner’s Pete Hillan for a long time. I worked at the Weekly when Hillan was on the 2010 pro-stadium campaign and dealt with him a lot. He was always a pro and honest with me. So, I did a little digging for the real story. Here’s what I learned.
Community Relations Manager Jennifer Yamaguma managed the RFP process and the contract. According to City Hall sources, it was her very first time managing this type of RFP or contract. She may have been in way over her head.
In April, 2017, Banner won the RFP the city held for a PR firm. The city needed extra help because of all the upcoming Stadium Authority issues: the Measure J audit, the 49ers suing the city, the curfew issue and the community room.
Banner, the winning firm, was suppose to start in mid-April. But it took approximately 90 days (three months) from the time they won the RFP, to the time the city processed the contract. That’s slow — even for government.
During that time, Banner was asked by City staff to do a bunch of things even though they had no contract: attend committee meetings, write press releases … Banner was also asked by Mayor Lisa Gillmor to help with media interviews. According to City staff, that’s okay as long as she’s acting as the City spokesperson.
But why did Banner do all this work? Our sources say no one at City Hall has media expertise. Yamaguma transferred from the City Clerk’s office in 2015 and has almost zero experience with media.
Also, Yamaguma was on paid leave from the end of May to mid-July. She was gone almost two months during this key period. According to Transparent California, her 2016 salary and benefits: $188,322.
Hillan says because of Yamaguma’s absence, he stepped in to help, with requests from Interim City Manager Rajeev Batra, Assistant City Manager, Ruth Shikada, Human Resources Director Elizabeth Brown and the Parks and Recreation department. His total billings: $44,430.
What’s the Fix?
Another contractor says this situation is not unusual and requested anonymity because of current work with the City. Many contractors will do some work early because the City contracting and payment process can be slow.
Our source also says the amount of work Banner did, and the City’s slow processing time for their contract was unusual. Banner took a financial risk. But Hillan says his firm was willing to do it, because the issues were urgent.
According to City Hall sources, new City Manager Deanna Santana and her new executive team evaluated this situation and are cleaning it up.
That’s good for Santa Clara. And we can thank the Weekly for that. Let’s hope they don’t suddenly deny they wrote the story.
Full disclosure: As I wrote above, I used to work at the Weekly. And I successfully defended myself against a frivolous lawsuit against the Weekly’s publisher Miles Barber. For some odd reason, Barber filed an appeal which most legal experts think is ridiculous. Unfortunately, I have to raise some money for the costs. You can help by going to this site.