Council Recap – Chamber Management Fee “Suspended”; Caserta’s Seat To Be Filled By Appointment

By Robert Haugh

The Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce lost their $150,000 management fee, as we predicted yesterday. No one could explain how it got so large and what they actually do to earn it.

The fee was suspended by a 5-1 vote. Councilwoman Patty Mahan was the lone vote against. She’s on the losing end a lot these days.

Councilwoman Teresa O’Neill made the motion. It was watered down version of her memo co-authored with Mayor Lisa Gillmor. She asked City staff to gather more info, do an audit, and discuss a term sheet with the Chamber if they want to get back their management fee.  Confusing? It’s like saying you’re fired but you can come back and get your salary if you rewrite your job description.


During this debate, Mahan and Councilman Pat Kolstad tried to save the Chamber. Then, Kolstad decided to vote with the majority when it was clear the Chamber did not have the votes.

We learned some interesting things. The Chamber apparently had access to City general funds and could write their own checks. Wow. It went unaudited. Wow.

City manager Deanna Santana said the City hasn’t received conflict of interest forms from several Chamber Board members. City attorney BrianDoyle mentioned self-dealing is an issue.

Chamber representatives including current Chamber board president Joe Siecinski and incoming president Chris Boyd tried making their case.  Siecinski shot himself in the foot when he tried to argue that Councilwoman Debi Davis and Gillmor entered into an “oral contract” with the Chamber for the fee increase during a meeting years ago. Davis strongly told him he was wrong and Doyle said regardless of what was said in a meeting, it’s not a contract. Oops.

The Chamber made some other dumb mistakes. They had the controversial Santa Clara Weekly Publisher Miles Barber speak for them. He’s the one who publicly attacked female councilmembers in a personal and Trumpian way in his columns.  Barber also led the Chamber PAC to unsuccessfully oppose council incumbents in 2016. Oops.

Chamber Interim CEO Nick Kaspar tried to say that the Chamber and PAC are different organizations, even though it’s obvious that they’re not.

Vacant Council Seat

The Council was given options for filling disgraced former councilmember Dominic Caserta’s vacant seat. Mahan initially tried to stop an appointment and made a motion to fill the seat with an election. That failed 4-2 with Mahan and Kolstad in the minority.

Davis pointed out how Mahan voted to fill a council vacancy by appointment in 2010. Watanabe and Gillmor pointed out that about 80 percent of voters made a charter amendment in 2016 to allow the council to appoint if 4/5th of the council agree on a person. That would be 5 of 6 remaining council members.

The Council then voted 4-2 to start the appointment process. Mahan and Kolstad opposed. The Application process will open on May 24 and be due on June 5. Council will interview applicants on June 12. If no applicant gets 5 of 6 votes, the seat remains vacant until the November election.

Other Items

  • Anthony Becker was appointed to the Planning Commission on a 4-2 vote with Davis and Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe voting against. This was a surprise. Becker made negative comments about Gillmor in the past. And she still voted for him. Kolstad switched his vote to support Becker, too.
  • During public presentations, HosamHaggag referred to comments made last week by Tamara Pantic about Caserta boasting about his relationship with the 49ers. Haggag asked the City and/or the DA to investigate any financial relationship(s) between the 49ers and Caserta, Mahan, Pat Kolstad, JerryMarsalli and JamieMatthews. Mahan responded that she’s received campaign contributions and one free ticket from the 49ers but nothing else. She was very angry —  not Mount Caserta angry. But almost.
  • The Moonlite Lanes project received unanimous approval for a general plan amendment.
  • I was busy with my daughter, so I couldn’t cover the council’s study session on the budget that happened at 6 p.m. But unlike Mahan, I wasn’t posting on Instagram during the meeting.


  1. O’Neill is weak but this was a pretty bold move for her. We’ve seen her chair neighborhood meetings where absolutely nothing gets done and the meetings take FOREVER!!! She should be applauded for this. At least weak is better than nothing happening.

    It’s good to see that they will fill Caserta’s seat. I hope it’s someone strong who doesn’t have emotional issues … or worse.

  2. If the Chamber committed fraud or didn’t do crappola for their fee for decades, why are they being “suspended” instead of “terminated?”

    Government sucks, as someone wrote.

  3. It seems like the Chamber is a money laundering operation. They take money from the city, move it to the PAC, and support candidates they approve of.
    But they way they are doing it you can’t call it organized crime because they are not organized.

  4. Look. Chamber of Commerces everywhere are networking, social organizations formed to promote their small business interests. That’s fine.
    Regretfully, for the Santa Clara Chamber, they will soon, and rightfully so, be sued for charging the City of Santa Clara (taxpayers) for services (“Management”) they never performed nor were qualified to perform (“Management of a Governmental Convention Center”), since 1984. Damages will be in the millions for the Chamber’s fraud.
    These were dollars conned from taxpayers that could have, should have, funded cops, firefighters, maintaining parks, picking up garbage. The stuff cities do.
    Santa Clarans got taken.
    The City Staff points the finger to the Chamber. The Chamber points back at the City Staff. In turn, both seem to blame old school predecessors in each. Whatever.
    Taxpayers have no dog in that fight.
    Taxpayers are entitled to get their money back where they believed they were paying for something of value when they weren’t ….for each year of almost 30 years past to present.
    Props to Santa Clara’s present City Manager and Attorney for uncovering the fraud and presenting it to taxpayers last evening. They are telling it like it is…finally.

  5. If anyone has any doubt about the Chamber’s INABILITY to manage the Convention Center just look at how they presented themselves last night.

    Chris Boyd gets up and says there’s a profit of $2.3 million over the last 9 years. He says those are the same numbers that a consultant presented. BUT … he says he leaving OUT the CVB. There’s a reason he did that. The CVB costs the city $1.5 million annually.

    So if Boyd and his cronies at the Chamber were honest they would say this:

    We make about $200K on the convention center annually. We spend about $1.5 million annually to promote the convention center. We lose about $1.3 million a year on the deal but our local hotels get filled up and kick back to the city’s general fund some taxes. BTW, it’s less than $1.3 million I think.

    So our Chamber, Convention Center, and CVB are money losers not a profit center. I’m disappointed that city staff didn’t correct them. They don’t seem to be doing their duty to the taxpayers either.

    Boyd and the Chamber leadership are either dishonest or they don’t understand the convention center business. Either of these reasons would justify the city cutting their contract.

  6. Hey Staple Man,

    I agree. O’Neill’s approach is typical of the public sector. They do half ass stuff rather than make real decisions. No one really wants to be accountable. No one makes decisions. No one thinks that time is money. That’s why government mostly sucks and wastes a lot of time and money.

    O’Neill was also the swing vote to allow the police chief to spike his pension. It’s the same sort of money wasting crappy decision.

    But the worst think is O’Neill was on the school board, the SCUSD, the group that wouldn’t fire a child sexual predator. It’s only now after all the press stories that the “suspended” him — just like the Chamber. Hey, maybe that’s where she got the idea.

    It’s a sin that they let Dominic Caserta stay in the classroom after numerous complaints from students. It’s one thing to manage money poorly. It’s terrible when you allow kids to be victimized.

  7. Looks like Teresa O’Neill is kinda wimpy when it comes to these things. Or she’s not really bright. She would never succeed in the private sector with her management approach.

    • Staple Man – O’Neil is successful in the private sector. Very successful and a very intelligent person in fact. Too bad you have no clue what your talking about. Please get back on the fry maker – they’re burned.

  8. The Mayor and Council should know that not all current or former Chamber members including board members agree with what was said last night. Some of us have questioned in meetings why we’re involved in Convention Center management. We don’t have any expertise. We don’t know what we’re doing. We seem to waste a lot of time on asking basic questions.

    Sometimes it’s better for an organization to know what it can or cannot do. Let’s hope the Chamber gets back to being a Chamber. It’s been a long time.

  9. I no longer read the Santa Clara Weekly. None of my neighbors do. The publisher wrote incoherent garbage. Why would the Chamber have him represent them?

  10. Agree with your comment on the Chamber’s choice of spokesman.
    It might be hard to get Patty or Pat to vote for Dominic’s replacement unless they have a choice that would be politically toxic to reject.
    With the current lawsuit complaining about the white nature of our council you can be pretty sure whites need not apply. This is their chance to make a change and Patty would have a hard time rejecting a qualified non-white candidate. Pat, on the other hand is a lame duck and might not care.
    Say what you want about living in Santa Clara, it isn’t boring.
    ( Nice catch on the posting. She has that in common with Dominic, I heard he posted on social media while in class.)

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