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Did the City Council Allow Police Chief Sellers to Spike His Pension and Cash Out Over $500,000 When He Retires?

By Robert Haugh

The City Council voted 4-3 last Tuesday to give Police Chief Mike Sellers “retroactive pay” of around $23,000. That’s what they said they were doing.  Maybe that’s what they thought they were doing.

But it looks like Sellers gets a whole lot more. He’ll get  to cash out $505,653 when he retires. Wow. That’s a lot of dough, especially for a police chief who received a “no confidence” vote from his department just two years ago.

And Sellers is expected to retire in the next 12 months, according to police department sources. If that’s true, he just got a huge pension spike.

We’re still trying to figure out how much that will cost the city. But we’re having a little trouble getting info. The City’s HR Director Liz Brown suddenly resigned on Thursday, March 22.  She was the one who took a “personal day” off instead of showing up to the council meeting to discuss Sellers’ pay increase. We’re hearing lots of rumblings from City Hall and the police department that there may be an investigation of Brown to figure out who directed her to do certain things. This may be getting interesting.

So when we get some more pension data, we’ll report it in future column.

But here’s what we know about Sellers’ compensation:

  • Sellers’ salary increased from $290,052 to $313,256 because of the council action.
  • That means the amount the city pays annually for Sellers’ pension to CALPERS also increases from $123,934 per year to $133,849. (not a typo).
  • His hourly rate increased from $139 to $151.
  • Sellers gets to “cash out” his unused vacation and sick leave. Right now, he has 3,357.5 total hours.
  • His total cash out will increase from $468,197 to $505,653. (again, not a typo).
  • Sellers gets to cash out an extra $37,456 in cash out because of the council action.

Here’s a spreadsheet of Sellers salary and compensation:

SellersRaiseBreakdown.jpgTechnically Illegal Raise

The vote to give Sellers an increase was controversial last Tuesday because technically it was illegal.

Sellers got cost of living adjustments that were never reported publicly and voted on in public session. Apparently, HR Director Brown just decided to give Sellers the raise even though City Attorney Brian Doyle told her it wasn’t legal. Wow.

So the City Council did a “do over” to give Sellers retroactive pay. Sellers also got merit increases in the past, too. Doyle says that is also technically illegal. But nothing was done to address that.

Here’s who voted yes to Sellers’ “illegal” retroactive raise:

  • Teresa O’Neill
  • Patty Mahan
  • Dominic Caserta
  • Pat Kolstad

Here’s who voted no:

  • Lisa Gillmor
  • Debi Davis
  • Kathy Watanabe

In 2016, he was the 7th highest paid police chief in the state, according to Transparent California.  It’s likely he moves up the ladder this year.

Oh, by the way, the Santa Clara Police Officers’ contract is up at the end of this year. They’ve got to be licking their chops.

16 replies »

  1. Sorry to disagree with MikeOH, but this is VERY important to follow and it’s not general negativity. Chief Sellers asked for a raise in his last year of service and this is called pension spiking. It shouldn’t be allowed and the councilmen/women who voted to approve this raise should be held accountable.

  2. Hey Charlie,

    Both Santana and Sellers are highly paid. But one is competent and honest and not afraid to stand up to the 49ers. The other one is the police chief.

    But seriously, it’s okay to pay people at the high end of the market. But they have to be good at what they do. Santana seems to be good. Sellers clearly is not.

  3. It appears that Robert Hough’s intent is to make life so miserable for Chief Sellers that he will want to resign before the end of his term….offering the Mayor and her Council majority the opportunity to appoint Pat Nikolai to complete the term and then run as an incumbent. Fat Chance!

    Who provided you the figures for the City’s PERS contribution for Chief Seller’s salary? They are inaccurate. Using your figures it works out to paying PERS 42.7% which is rediculous. The actual percentage is 20.02%, which is less than half of what you state. (Source:PERS). And you neglect to mention that All City of Santa Clara Safety employees (including Chief Sellers) has 12.025% of their gross salary deducted for their share of a PERS retirement.

    Moreover, safety employees’ total compensation includes vacation and sick leave which you have neglected to include in the Chief’s benefit information…or did you mix that into the City’s PERS number to inflate it?

    The other readers’ replies correctly capture the tone and tenor of your blog….and the inaccurate characterization of the Chief’s recent Council-approved salary increase as “illegal”. Just another flawed attempt at demonizing Chief Sellers.

    • In all respect sir, I mentioned in this column that I’m waiting on detailed information on the pension figures. We based the CalPERS figures on information presented to the public at meetings, plus information we’ve requested from City Hall. If you read the full
      Column, we state we will
      Followup on the pension figures. These numbers were as accurate as we could get, and will be subject to an update and corrections. We will followup and and make corrections as necessary, and when more information is available. There is no attempt to demonize anyone on this site.

  4. Julia Hill? Really?? Who’s great idea is that? Why is Santa Clara going to have an attorney from a firm they used as a consultant be their HR Director? I sure hope this is completely exposed and stopped! Appointing her is totally inappropriate… unless everyone finally realizes that the current City Attorney is incompetent and needs to go! Fire him — don’t hire even more problems.

    As for the Chief’s raises … you sure have a chip on your shoulder Robert and are so biased that you cannot report the truth … the Council — all 6 of them and the Mayor approved all his raises! Why didn’t they stop it? Why didn’t the City Manager stop it? Why didn’t the City Attorney stop it? Sellers was doing what was established operating policy … why did that occur for decades? Sellers is not an expert in what need to be done in open session or closed session — that’s the City Clerk and City Attorney or others’ job.

    Once again, you are blaming the wrong people … PLease fact check and knock that chip off your shoulder before we have to call you Miles Jr. Or little Carolyn … your bias is tainting your ability to “report” Santa Clara News! We already have a Santa Clara rumor rag. Step up Robert and get out of the muck!!

    • Prior to Asst. HR Director, Julia Hill was an Asst. City Attorney. You might be confusing her with Sujata Reuter who used to be with a law firm that the City of Santa Clara uses on a lot of their civil suit cases, Rankin, Stock, Haeberlin. After former City Attorney, Ren Nosky, resigned Julia Hill moved to HR and Reuter was hired as a Sr. Deputy City Attorney. The combination of both Reuter and Hill in the city attorney’s office and HR respectively likely means more corruption, abuse, and lack of transparency for the residents, guests, and commuting workers in Santa Clara.

  5. I LIKE MIKE FOR CITY COUNCIL

    “Hi, I’m Jed York, and I approved this message.”

    This message paid for the the San Francisco 49ers …

    • LOL. Thanks, Jed. Maybe I can get you to redirect those approval funds, or at least buy me a beer. Maybe tickets to a Raiders game when they move to Levi’s.

  6. A few of us have worked with Teresa O’Neill on neighborhood issues. While she’s nice enough, she’s not really a leader. I bet she just wanted to go along with the majority.

  7. As far as being the 7th highest paid Police Chief, consider it in terms of his time on the force and look at CM Santana. By your own referenced.”transparency” index, she was the 6th highest paid CM in 2016, working for Sunnyvale. Her base salary was $272k vs. now her Santa Clara base pay of $373k, not to mention the other extraordinary benefits, including the $3,750/mo. housing allowance that allows her to stay in her current Sunnyvale residence, and not move to (less expensive) Santa Clara.
    Also the 4% retro (after just 3 months) and future pay raises tied to a union contract which she negotiates in a conflict of interest.
    This constant targeted reporting is biased. Personal favorites and forever designated demons regardless of the issues. Santa Clara is the “City of What’s Possible”… add “to Blame on Someone Else”. Let’s move away from this negativity. It’s not productive.

  8. Be at least fair.
    The “illegal” raise can’t be blamed on Sellers. The illegal issue was how it was handled by City HR and the Council. He likely would have gotten something at least close in 2015 (which was rescinded after the HR issues were discovered). Mayor Gilmore signed off on that amount when she was one of Council members on the Salary Review Committee. The Committeesnd Council approval process was illegal, in terms of the disclosure rules.

  9. Likely stepping in as the interim HR director is Julia Hill who directed an IT Manager to limit the collection of electronic evidence despite department policy in place to retain such articles and a Demand for Preservation of Evidence letter received from an attorney. Hill will likely not cooperate to uncover any alleged or perceived wrongdoings within the police department or city. Unless the current city manager appoints someone else besides Hill as interim Director of Human Resources, things will likely get worse.

    • The issue of Govt employee “spiking” is a huge problem throughout the system. Where it really becomes gamesmanship is in overtime and vacation pay. I don’t know if overtime is a factor or available in the Chief’s position, but vacation pay is. The idea is to hold off on vacation pay as close to the accrual cap as possible, and then take it just before retirement. Sellers’s vacation spike was enhanced when the Council approved him accruing vacation time over his eligible cap. Again, that’s a government employment issue across the board, exacerbated in this case by the Council approval last year, whom are the same members as now, including Gilmore, Davis and Watanabe.

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