By Robert Haugh
Dr. Tom Shanks worked with the City of Santa Clara from 1998 to 2015 to develop ethics programs for City Hall and our political campaigns. He was also a former executive director of Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
He wrote an opinion piece in the Mercury News yesterday that was scathing about Santa Clara and the 49er Five.
“Today in the city, I see the most egregious collapse of ethics of any institution I’ve worked with in three decades,” Shanks wrote.
Shanks is a top national ethicist. Many of his Santa Clara programs won awards. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he’s writing an ethics case study on Santa Clara.
Shanks traces the decline of ethics to 2010 “when the San Francisco 49ers won a campaign to build a new stadium and started their dominance of Santa Clara politics,” he wrote.
“In 2020, 49ers CEO Jed York spent nearly $3 million to elect a City Council majority through an independent expenditure for Anthony Becker, Suds Jain, and Kevin Park. The independent expenditure was legal. The impact was destructive.”
The 49er Five are called out for their most recent decisions. Shanks wrote:
The most dramatic example of Santa Clara’s decline happened last month when the City Council majority accepted a legal settlement offer in a closed-door meeting after rejecting the numerous requests for a public discussion and for an independent financial analysis. Ethical leaders would have embraced the opportunities, not shut them down.
Equally egregious was the decision of Councilmembers Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy to participate in the decision. Chahal was absent for the final settlement vote, but he was involved in the initial deliberations. Both councilmembers are currently under investigation by a state agency for allegedly accepting gifts from the 49ers. Yet, they would not recuse themselves from voting on the team’s settlement offer despite numerous requests. Ethical leaders would have done so to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
That’s some pretty strong language. But Shanks thinks the situation could be even worse. He writes that Santa Clara could be headed in the same direction as the City of Bell.
Bell elected officials actually went to prison a decade ago. Shanks called it the “largest local government scandal in California history.”
“It would be disastrous and sad if Santa Clara became the Bell of Northern California,” wrote Shanks.
For that statement, Shanks gets Santa Clara News Online’s first-ever Quadruple Wow.