This is about Santa Clara, but it could just as well be Richmond. The RPA dominated Richmond City Council has made differences with other City Council members and the mayor into personal vendettas. The City Council has condemned me twice, censored me once, spent $100,000 investigating me and $186,000 suing me, all over issues the public has little interest in.
There are always political differences on legislative bodies, and eventually they get resolved at the ballot box. Councilmembers McLaughlin, Willis, Jimenez, Martinez and Johnson have made it personal, which costs the City money, lengthens City Council meetings and probably gives potential employees a pause about whether they want to work in such a toxic environment.
Richmond currently has a 18% employee vacancy rate, higher than Santa Clara. We know that at least one City employee, the former city attorney, left because the City Council directed her to perform illegal and unethical acts.
Santa Clara: City employees leaving because of council’s ‘unacceptable behavior’
In exit interviews, employees are citing council dynamics as one of the reasons they’re leaving
By GRACE HASE | email@example.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: February 19, 2022 at 7:15 a.m. | UPDATED: February 19, 2022 at 1:57 p.m.
The “Great Resignation’’ has hit Santa Clara, with many city employees leaving in large part because they’ve had enough of the City Council’s behavior.
At least that’s among the top three reasons given during their exit interviews, according to City Manager Deanna Santana, who relayed the sobering news to the Santa Clara City Council earlier this month.
Beyond council dynamics, employees cited the workload and a lack of work-life balance as other motives to abandon ship.
And hiring to replace departed employees hasn’t been any easier. Before the pandemic, the city had an 11 to 14 percent vacancy rate. Now, it’s 17 percent.
“We have some known workplace conditions that add to retention, but it’s those same known workplace conditions that add to our challenges to make it harder for us to recruit, as well,” Santana said at the Feb. 8 meeting.
The city has especially struggled to hire someone to help fulfill California Public Records Act requests. The first person quit after just five days on the job, citing a hefty workload that eclipsed the one they had while working for the city of San Jose. A second person handed in their resignation after watching a single council meeting, and a third, who was offered the job, also withdrew their candidacy after watching a council meeting.
“We just took it off for now because it had been up for so long,” Santana said of the job listing. “It became embarrassing for the organization to have such an open unfilled position given the history and the likeliness of public sector employees knowing the history of that position.”
Over the last year, the council has struggled with unusually long meetings that often descend into accusations of filibustering and collusion with the 49ers, smirking at other council members’ remarks and shouting over one another on Zoom.
In April 2021, the council censured Councilmember Kathy Watanabe and admonished Mayor Lisa Gillmor when Watanabe refused to let Councilmember Kevin Park — the council’s only Korean American — speak at a “Stop Asian Hate” rally.
On two separate occasions last year, residents brought forward petitions to the council to censure Councilmember Anthony Becker and Park. They complained about Becker for “retaliating against a member of the public” during a meeting and Park for comments he made comparing single family homeowners not being able to design a city to asking toddlers what they want for lunch.
Neither was censured, but Becker ended up meeting with the resident to clear the air.
Top city officials are also fed up with the council, according to Chris Jackson, the president of Unit 9 — a union that represents unclassified managers. Jackson told the council last week that a recent survey of Unit 9 employees found them to be “frustrated and disheartened” by the council’s inability to follow its code of ethics and “respectfully work with city management.”
“This ongoing animosity, inappropriate, offensive and sometimes flat out inaccurate information from council during public meetings is not only embarrassing, but against the city’s harassment, bullying and ethics and values policies,” Jackson said. “Slowly the code of ethics and values has eroded as council members gradually push the boundaries
of unacceptable behavior on the dais and in their public roles as city officials.”
Jackson emphasized that each council member had cast “the first stone.”
The lack of a city attorney is also looming over the city. In September, the council fired Brian Doyle from the position. At the time, Gillmor said that Vice Mayor Suds Jain and council members Raj Chahal, Karen Hardy, Park and Becker voted to terminate Doyle.
Nearly six months since Doyle was axed, the city remains without an attorney and continues to struggle with hiring assistant city attorneys. It’s caused the city to turn to a “whack-a-mole” approach to legal services, focusing on litigation first, which has created delays in everything from creating council agenda reports to Silicon Valley Power contracts, according to Santana.
City spokesperson Lon Peterson said the council has yet to announce a timeline for hiring a new attorney, however, a bid posted last year said an interim city attorney should have started Jan. 18.
Gillmor did not respond to a request for comment, but during the meeting, said that the council majority firing Doyle “at the request of the 49ers” has created “ripple effects” throughout the city. During the 2020 election, 49ers owner
Jed York spent several million dollars on an independent expenditure committee backing three of the current council members: Becker, Park and Jain.
“I think that this council can’t take action like that and then not expect that there’s going to be a consequence,” Gillmor said. “And that’s where we are right now. I think that along with our other employee issues, we have to improve it because at the end of the day our residents in Santa Clara expect that we give them the highest level of services.”
Becker, who frequently speaks out about the “toxicity” at the city, told this news organization that he thought it was “inappropriate” for Santana to throw “the city council under the bus.”
“What I’ve noticed with the city manager when she’s saying that, is she’s basically saying that it’s council’s fault and that’s not taking any responsibility for any shortcomings,” Becker said of Santana’s comments.
The freshman council member added that the council needs to “turn over a new leaf,” “take away the politics” and focus on the residents.
In an email, Peterson said the council will continue its priority setting meeting on March 1 when there will be a “continued discussion on governance and council collegiality.”
“City staff is requesting that city council help pace the city’s work to allow staff to focus on the critical priority of our fiscal condition and employee work-life balance given the reduction in staff capacity (productivity hours),” he said.
“Like other organizations, COVID has placed new stressors on city staff and staff has absorbed delivering services during COVID while sustaining day-to-day operations.”