Santa Clara fires city manager setting up what could be a contentious legal battle

Santa Clara fires city manager setting up what could be a contentious legal battle
Photo Credit: City of Santa Clara
By Wesley Severson - Published on February 25, 2022.

The city of Santa Clara is now operating without its top two administrators after city council members voted to fire City Manager Deanna Santana. Less than six months ago the council fired former city attorney Brian Doyle and has not found a permanent or interim replacement. Council members Anthony Becker, Kevin Park, Karen Hardy, and Raj Chahal voted in favor of Santana’s firing while Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and council member Kathy Watanabe voted against it. Vice Mayor Suds Jain was absent from the vote. 

The council members took action citing a lack of confidence in Santana, who has stirred up controversy with very public conflicts with the 49ers' management of Levi’s Stadium and her huge yearly salary. Santana got into a very high-profile war of words with the management of the Rolling Stones in 2019, who said they would never return to Levi's after the way the city "micro-managed" their concert, and held them to a 10 p.m. curfew. And according to the Mercury News, Santana makes just over $765,000, making her the second-highest-paid city manager in the state behind the city manager of Fontana. 

Gillmor and Santana often sided with one another on issues involving the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, including concert curfews, parking fees, and stadium rent payments. “I have been in public office for several decades. No city council has ever gutted City Hall and put our residents in jeopardy with no management at city hall. No city council has so obviously put a private interest above the public interest and I think this is a really really sad day in Santa Clara history,” Gillmor told San Jose Spotlight.

Another surprising aspect of the situation is that the council went ahead with the vote even though Assistant City Attorney Sujata Reuter recommended it be delayed so the city could find a law firm to represent it during the firing process. The council went ahead anyway and held the closed-session vote “under protest.” “The first step you should take is to go out and retain counsel before you go down this path any more,” Reuter told the SF Chronicle

It now appears there could be a long legal battle ahead between the city and Santana. According to the Mercury News, Santana’s attorney claimed the action was “reckless, retaliatory, and unlawful” and said her client is “assessing her options.”

The vote apparently came just two days after a contentious council meeting where Santana brought up the possibility of illegal conflicts of interest in the 49ers' bid to bring World Cup soccer matches to Levi’s Stadium in 2026.

Councilmember Kevin Park called the vote absolutely necessary. “When you get bitten by a dog, you need to heal regardless. The teeth may leave holes, but you need to remove the dog. There’s some things you have to do,” Park told the Mercury News. The Santa Clara City Council is expected to select an interim city manager at a meeting in the next week or so. Meanwhile, Santana remains suspended with pay while the legal process plays out. She now has 30 days to respond to her firing in writing or by a requested public hearing.