City Council Review: City Staff Sheds Light on Grand Jury Report, Council Decides on March Election to Pick Police Chief

By Robert Haugh

The City staff made a long presentation about how public records act (PRA) requests are handled. They were recently criticized by the Civil Grand Jury for being slow and having weak systems in place.

As we reported yesterday, City staff says they get a huge amount of info requests. They did a study of similar local cities. 

Last night, City Manager Deanna Santana said that about 70 percent of requests come from the 49ers and related media sources, like the Santa Clara Weekly. Wow. (The 49ers are one of the biggest advertisers in the Weekly.)

City attorney Brian Doyle said that attorneys frequently use PRA requests to prep lawsuits against the City. He specifically singled out the 49ers.  

Mayor Lisa Gillmor said that she’s a former grand juror and she thinks that the Grand Jury missed a big part of the story. They did not benchmark Santa Clara with any other city, Gillmor said.  If they did, they would have discovered something suspicious. Santa Clara gets a huge amount of requests. (20 times more than Sunnyvale).

“We are being targeted by groups that are trying to intimidate and harass us and cause us a lot of work,” she said. Gillmor even asked the Grand Jury to do a follow-up report.

Maybe this year’s Civil Grand Jury might have accidentally uncovered a bigger story. Maybe next year’s Civil Grand Jury could tell it.

Police Chief Replacement

The Council decided last night to go to a March 2020 election to pick the next Police Chief. The current Police Chief, Mike Sellers, stepped down on September 1. They also have the option of appointing Sellers’ replacement.

Councilwoman Debi Davis made the motion and had some pretty strong words.  She brought up the failed effort to appoint a successor for disgraced former Councilman Dominic Caserta last June. She said that the majority of the Council acted in good faith in interviewing lots of good candidates for six hours. 

But Councilwoman Patty Mahan and Councilman Pat Kolstad refused to pick any candidate.  A few months later, they were officially admonished by the Council for misleading the candidates and the public. It was the first time in Santa Clara history that any councilmember was officially admonished. 

Davis said that she did not want to go through that process again and have one or two councilmembers block an appointment. Davis said that “one of those councilmembers is still on the dais” referring to Mahan. “I want to go right to an election and not deal with what we dealt with in the past,” Davis said.

Mahan tried to interrupt Davis twice, but failed. When she did speak, Mahan said Davis “mischaracterized” her Caserta replacement non-vote. Mahan eventually voted for the March election option. That vote passed 6-0. (Councilwoman Karen Hardy missed the meeting because of her back-to-school night commitment. She’s a teacher at Wilcox High School).

We’ll be handicapping the Police Chief’s race next week.

Other Stuff

  • The Council revised its travel policy to include the Police Chief and the City Clerk.  It makes sense since they’re both elected officials. 

  • The Council got an update from City Clerk Hosam Haggag about the Charter Review Committee meetings. They’re concerned about the lack of effective outreach. Here’s a link to info about upcoming meetings and an online survey.

3 comments

  1. The survey link seems to have disappeared. Just try locating the survey through the above links – good luck. The “a link” information shows the following URL which, go ahead and click it – doesn’t go to a survey: https://www.opentownhall.com/7744 What happened? Personally I wonder whether this is a case of various people on the Council –wanting– the result to be a certain way. I did take the survey earlier, when it was visible, and I was underwhelmed by it’s structure. It was a typical city survey with a random hatch of questions designed to lead toward a desired outcome. It was not scientific in any sense of the word.

    • The URL works now. So far the City has 101 replies, which is a response rate of less than 1% of all households in the City of Santa Clara. (There are between 42,000 and 43,500 households in Santa Clara in 2019.)

  2. As I understood the grand jury issue, they were investigating a complaint and could not get the necessary records to conduct the investigation. That shifted the emphasis. I am pleased the city is looking at improving the record keeping. I hope they put a high priority on this.

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