Santa Clara Priority Setting Retreat: Santana Impresses, Caserta Skips Out to Attend a Wedding, Mahan Needs to Mend Fences

By Robert Haugh

The City Council held a two-day retreat about the city’s future on Friday and Saturday. That’s a lot of time and effort. Well, at least for most of the City Council. It was called “Operational and Strategic Priority Setting.” We learned a lot and it looks like the City Council did, too.

What immediately jumped out is how quickly City Manager Deanna Santana has hit the ground running. She has only been on the job since October, 2017, but she already knows city operations and finances better than either of her two predecessors: Julio Fuentes and Rajeev Batra. Fuentes never showed command of facts and figures and Batra didn’t seem to know basic things about the city charter.

City manager Deanna Santana

It’s clear that Santa Clara City Hall has made a major jump in talent and professionalism with the new management staff. During both days, Santana received compliments from almost all the councilmembers and the mayor about her command of information and the organization.

There was only one person who didn’t compliment her — Councilman Dominic Caserta. But that’s because he was hardly there. Caserta arrived 7 hours late to the Friday session and embarrassingly asked a question about hiring contractors that was covered hours earlier. Caserta then left early on Saturday after attending for only about an hour. He said he had to go to a friend’s wedding.This two-day retreat was rescheduled from December, 2017, to accommodate Councilwoman Patty Mahan who had major cancer surgery that month. It was arranged to accommodate all council members’ schedules, so we’re hearing a lot of criticism of Caserta from his council colleagues and city staffers who put a lot of time into the meetings.

Mahan raised some eyebrows on Saturday when she complained that Councilwomen Debi Davis and Kathy Watanabe would not even speak to her, so the council needs to do some “team building.” Mayor Lisa Gillmor responded by saying that the majority of the council works well together and has accomplished a lot in the last year. Gillmor said there’s nothing wrong with debate, even if the result is a 5-2 vote. Councilman Pat Kolstad got the room laughing when he said the simple solution for everyone is to just agree with him.

There’s some political background to this story. During the 2016 council elections, Mahan made ethics charges against both Davis and Watanabe that didn’t stick or stop them from winning re-election by big margins. But it sounds like Mahan has not mended fences yet.

Here are some of the most prominent themes we heard during the two days:

  • The City has a lot of major projects its working on and is understaffed in most areas.
  • The City staff deals with a lot of public records acts requests that ties up a lot of resources.
  • The City needs new technology in almost all departments that still rely on paper for information storage.
  • There was a lot of discussion about downtown revitalization and redevelopment.
  • City staff has office space constraints for current and new staff.

The major strategic initiatives will be organized into these categories:

  • Deliver and enhance high quality and efficient services and infrastructure
  • Maintain adequate staffing levels
  • Enhance community engagement and transparency
  • Ensure compliance with Measure J and manage Levi’s Stadium
  • Strategic service improvements

Editor’s Note: You can watch the entire two days on the City’s Facebook page or Youtube channel




  1. […] The last time these were held in 2016, it may have been counterproductive. Councilwoman Patty Mahan made ethics charges against both Councilwoman Debi Davis and Councilwoman Kathy Watanabe that didn’t stick or stop them from winning re-election by big margins. Mahan never mended fences and it may be the source of her difficult relationship with her colleagues. […]

  2. It really is time I suppose to discuss Caserta, the only candidate for Supervisor with that Android app that processes payments on the smart phone. Oh, more on that file in the weeks to come.

  3. Mahan and Caserta are mean and disrespectful to people who attend council meetings who don’t agree with them. They’ve belittled residents and commissioners and candidates for commission.

    It’s not a surprise that some people don’t talk to them. What is a surprise is that anyone does.

  4. Has anyone checked FB to see if Caserta went to the Womens March? If he left the meeting that early maybe he headed to join the march. Either way it doesn’t seem like he cares about Santa Clara very much. How could he be trusted to take care of the County? Just sayin…..

  5. I worked in organizational development for four decades before retiring. That was one of the best and most informative organizational overviews I’ve seen from a non-profit organization. Now, if the organization can measure and execute, Santa Clara will be a well-managed city that’s prepared for the future.

    One warning sign I see is the attitude of Councilwoman Mahan. I hope she resolves her issues. I know how destructive one disgruntled person can be to an organization, especially if he or she is in a high profile position like a division manager or executive — or, in this case, on a city council.

  6. Thank you for the information. I watched the first day on video. I feel good about the leadership of our city with our Mayor and City Manager.

  7. The 2-day retreat was titled: “Operational and Strategic Priority Setting”. Guess we know where Dominic’s priorities lay – ie: not with the City. Just for his campaign. We all heard it before and it rang true again on Fri/Sat, the only one Caserta cares about is Caserta.

    For the rest of the City, our priorities were well debated and spot on.

  8. I was there, and from a public’s eyeview of what was happening, what a tremendous loss for those who did not make it. I have found a deeper respect for how my City is run.

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