Will Santa Clara Become the Most Corrupt City in California? Q&A with Ethics Expert Dr. Tom Shanks 

Q: You publicly said a few years ago that you believe Santa Clara is headed for corruption like the City of Bell.  Do you still believe that?

A: The corruption or the appearance of corruption in Santa Clara already puts the City in the running for this decade’s most corrupt local government.  If City ethics continues on the downward slope, they’ve been on for the last few years, Santa Clara will make Bell’s corrupt Senior City staff and Council look like amateurs. In Bell, high-ranking officials received exorbitant salaries and faced legal consequences, including jail time and restitution.

When city council members take their oath of office, they commit to a fiduciary duty to prioritize the people’s needs above all else. This duty comes with strict legal and ethical obligations.

Corruption is the use of Council power for anything other than serving the people’s best interests. 

In many respects it’s more corrupt than Bell. The Santa Clara City Council majority frequently uses its power to advance personal or team agendas, to secure more power, and to punish enemies; they never ask whether these decisions are ethically right, truly benefit the community, or build public trust. Actions such as attacking critics, refusing accountability, pursuing political vendettas, fabricating facts to support opinions, and blindly following requests from entities like the 49ers without conducting due diligence are frequent and do not serve the public’s best interests. The Council may follow the minimum standards of the law, but they regularly violate their duty to build public trust.

Q: Do you think the 2020 Civil Grand Jury that said the 49er Five are selling out Santa Clara residents to help the team had any impact?

A: In the past, we were able to study ethical leadership and ethically-neutral leadership (a leader who never talks about ethics; takes the short-term view; and puts the organization at risk). We couldn’t study unethical leadership because unethical leaders were not around long-enough to study.  Unsportsmanlike Conduct tells the extraordinary story of what happens when a Council majority ignores ethics and trashes public trust because they have the votes to do whatever they please, have abandoned whatever moral compasses they may have had,  and they face no effective or timely checks and balances to alter their behavior. 

The report did not change Council majority behavior for the better. Today, they are less transparent, independent, and accountable than they were.  The people, however, learned a great deal from the report and even more from the unscrupulous attacks the Santa Clara City Council and the San Francisco 49ers launched against the Grand Jury and individual Grand Jury members. In Santa Clara politics today “nothing is despicable” and “crush the critic” are now standard operating procedure. 

This Council violates the Code of Ethics & Values at every meeting. It gets away with it because the vast majority of the 127,000 residents do not know what is going on, how often it is occurring, or what, exactly, they can or should do about it.  

But any decision about public action begins with the people being informed.

Q: What role do you believe the media has played in what’s happening in Santa Clara today with ethics or possible corruption?

A: The local media have contributed significantly to the lack of ethics, transparency, information, and trust in Santa Clara.  In addition to my ethics training, I taught media and communications at Santa Clara University for over 25 years, so I pay close attention to how media shapes what we think about local government and how much we trust it.  

With the exception of the San Francisco Chronicle, other local publications have completely missed stories of unethical behavior and corruption, slant the news to support 49ers talking points, mix opinion with fact, destroy their own credibility, and further damage public trust. 

I trust the Chronicle as the paper of record for Santa Clara Ethics Stories and know that Santa Clara News Online will report negative news about the Council accurately.  I know that San Jose Spotlight is a go-to friend of the 49ers and Silicon Valley Voice is an echo chamber and ally of the current Council, and willingly uses its news coverage to do the Council’s dirty work.

I am now studying and documenting how the 49ers have developed relationships and established ties with publishers, editors,and some writers.  We learned a great deal about this in the testimony that led to CM [Anthony] Becker’s indictment for perjury. There’s more to the story. 

In some ways the 49ers are a textbook example of how wealthy corporations hijack local politics, influence coverage, turn newspapers into lobbyists or PR channels, weaken democracy, and further damage public trust.  Let the reader beware is my first piece of advice. 

Q: How do you think the City is handling the gathering of information about the 2026 World Cup and FIFA documents?

A: I’m stunned that the City doesn’t have key documents that the City Council and the public need to determine any potential costs of the games. Other cities have information online.

I’m really disappointed that City staff doesn’t appear to be doing its duty and acting on behalf of the residents to obtain this information. It’s been months since City Manager Jovan Grogan and City Attorney Glen Googins were directed by the City Council to get the documents. This was also a major recommendation of the Civil Grand Jury. 

The City Staff has redacted documents and kept key information from the public, including who signed the bid documents. Now the City Staff wants the City to enter into an information sharing agreement that looks like a system to hide more information. 

That isn’t a transparent or ethical approach.  This is not how the City should operate if you care about public trust and are dedicated to serving the people’s best interests.  It also raises serious questions about the ethical leadership the City Manager and City Attorney are providing for City staff.  Ethical leadership from the top is the single-most important reason City staffs act ethically.  

We will be watching closely on October 26 when Mr. Googins conducts the first City ethics training in years and we will continue to monitor the City Manager’s ethical leadership. .  

Q: I hear that you are working on some new ethics projects. What are they and will they be focused at all on Santa Clara? 

A: Yes, I’m really focused on Santa Clara because I think we are seeing in real time the growing corruption of a community on a variety of levels:  political, government, and media.  I want to document Santa Clara as an academic case study because other communities, students, elected leaders, and City staffs everywhere can learn a lot from Santa Clara about building, destroying, and rebuilding public trust.

But I also want to engage the public in a meaningful way so that individuals in this community can learn and take effective action.  I’ll be announcing some initiatives soon.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Tom Shanks is a nationally recognized ethicist and the former director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.


  1. Reply to “Burt has Much to Learn”

    Statement 1: “The 49ers had nothing to do with nominating charter review volunteers.”

    Response: You big dummy (in Fred Sanford’s voice). A posited statement without support, well, is bull excrement. How do you know?

    Statement 2: ‘There are three Asian, three White, and one Black members of the committee, as close to reflecting the city’s ethnic diversity as it can get.’

    Response: Nowhere does Burt suggest “race’ is an issue. BUT YOU view life as a RACIST. Sad and bitter. Put your crack pipe down, and relax. Reevaluate your life’s mission, and stop reading the Santa Clara Weakly.

    Statement 3: ‘Most of them, if not all, are college educated and their professional backgrounds indicate proficiency in being able to evaluate topics rationally’

    Response: In most cases, the more college education one receives, the dumber one becomes. They are many dumb “college educated’ persons and their own insecurities induce them to succumb to anti-American values. Empirically, I know a top neurosurgeon making over $500k+ a year who may be excellent in an operation room, but on the street, this person is dumb as a box of rocks. Kinda like Scrubs Jane and Park.

    Again, take another hit on your crack pipe and relax.

    • What she said!!!
      Thanks Jo Warren!!

      Amazing how people can say such brazen and less than intelligent comments, and yet not have the guts to put their name to them.
      Curious as to what they have to hide.

      I’d be glad to sit down with anyone and go toe to toe about many subjects.
      Rarely is there one right answer, but I will freely admit, I do not know, what I do not know.
      I’m 63 with a lot to learn still.

      One of the greatest questions ever asked of me was this…
      Do you know the difference between ignorance and stupidity?
      Really a great question.
      Real simple, and it says a lot without saying a lot.

      One of them is temporary.

      So If your gonna try to flex your mental intellect and make a weak effort to call me out… at the very least have the guts to put your real name to it.
      Seems like a fair request.
      Until then I’m leaning strongly to the side where we know you have had the time, and yet now sit alone in the corner with a special cap designed just for you.

      Tip, see who Anthony Becker picked to be on the Charter Review Committee.
      Who is she married too?
      Why did she use her Maiden Name?
      Good, fair questions.

      Don’t get me started, I had almost a full Half Year at West Valley College, before I stopped going to start to work for myself.
      Funny thing is I actually have more College units than a VP of one of the Worlds Largest Companies.
      How do I know that… we have been friends since we were 2, and he is easily the Smartest Person I have ever met.

      Burt Field.

  2. Interesting timing
    Just a Email from the City at about 3:40 this afternoon.  It was talking about Ethics and offered some training.    
    Oct 26th, 5pm to 8pm City Hall
    Ethics Training held by our City Attorney
    City Hall Council Chambers.  
    I just sent in my RSVP.
    I’ve include the link from the City.

    This is what The City email suggested we do.   
    To help with arrangements, if you are planning on attending, please RSVP to cityattorney@santaclaraca.gov

    Hope at least one of you can join me.  You may not want to sit next to me….you know I am not well liked by at least 4.1 of the current 49er Council Members.  Still not clear on what I did… but what do I know.     

    Burt Field 
    Buchser High 78′
    Curtis Junior High 74′
    Sutter Elementary 71′

  3. Wow… this is very interesting to read.  
    I will Echo what Dana Caldwell has just stated.  
    “I urge everyone to take the time to read about what is going on in our City.”
    I will also ask again for all of us to register to vote.

    I want my Santa Clara City Council back.  
    I also want our “Appointed Positions”, City Attorney and City Manager to maybe press pause for just a second.  Stand back and evaluate just what they want to be remembered for.  It’s their call.  They have time…. but the evidence is starting to stack up and it is a really bad look.

    One guess how I feel about Appointed Chief of Police, and City Clerk to one that is voted in by the residents.   

    Our 49er Council has picked enough people in a Charter Review Committee to put this on our next ballot.  Yes, they are asking me to vote, to lose the right vote for our elected Chief of Police and City Clerk.  
    Cost estimates are between $550K and $600K.
    Could $600K be used somewhere else in our City?  One guess is the International Swim Center, but what do I know.  

    Thank you Mr. Haugh for having a local site that talks about Santa Clara in a way that educates many residents.      
    Thanks you Mr. Shanks and Mr. Vartan for putting up the YouTube Channel that has addressed this now for months.  I have learned so much from just watching your Channel. Hope other SC Residents will do the same.  

    Burt Field

    • The 49ers had nothing to do with nominating charter review volunteers. There are three Asian, three White, and one Black members of the committee, as close to reflecting the city’s ethnic diversity as it can get. Most of them, if not all, are college educated and their professional backgrounds indicate proficiency in being able to evaluate topics rationally.

      Attending the AB 1234 three hour training is not going to make you competent in any topic you consistently whine about. Maybe you should reach out to charter review committee members or any of the speakers in favor of an appointed police chief and clerk to learn something – their submitted academic research and testimony has made your public pleas to the committee look like that of a bumbling fool.

  4. I look forward to more from Dr Shanks. We need to educate our city on what is going on and how they can help stop it. We have seen how these five regularly go after those that oppose them. (Burt Fields) just to name the most recent example. I’m betting that I’m on their short list as well. 
    It’s easy to sit idle, watch and see what happens but doing nothing only emboldens their behavior. I urge everyone to take the time and read about what is going on in our city. Don’t fall prey to the sound bites put out by the 49er management that paint a rosy financial picture. 
    If you want accurate reporting, go to the Chronicle. They are not afraid to report facts.

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