After Weeks Under Wraps, SJ City Council Selection Moves into Spotlight

The parade of applicants for the two vacant San Jose City Council seats begins Tuesday, with public interviews conducted over two days, Jan. 24 and Jan. 26.

Sources said last week there may be an attempt at the meetings to define the appointees’ term as temporary until a special election is held later this year.

Mayor Matt Mahan released a statement before the meeting, that said he "continues to believe that these appointments should be made on an interim basis while the city organizes special elections, but encourages residents to voice their opinion on the candidates at the public meetings."

The city began accepting applications Dec. 14 for two appointments to serve until the next city election in 2024. The application period closed Jan. 3.

The names of the candidates, along with their applications, were revealed on Jan. 13 to the public and to the nine men and women who will be interviewing them: five finalists for District 8 – including three city employees – in southeast San Jose and six finalists for District 10 in southwest San Jose.

When a divided city council that included only five of the current council members on Dec. 5 chose council appointments rather than a public election to fill two vacant seats in 2023, they pledged the process would be “transparent.”

While this week’s interviews and votes will be open to the public and will be video streamed, until this week the process has been anything but transparent:

‘Indications of interest’ in secret

  • Each applicant was given the opportunity to publish email addresses and phone numbers, but of the 24 men and women who applied for District 10 and 13 who applied for District 8 – only 12 gave email addresses, and just four gave telephone numbers.
  • Each applicant also was asked to fill out an application/questionnaire with more detailed information, but these completed applications were only given to the mayor and eight council members and the city attorney.
  • On Jan. 13, only the applications of the 11 finalists were released to the public, when their identities were revealed as part of the advance agendas for Jan. 24 and Jan. 26
  • The applications of the other 26 applicants will not be released, although City Attorney Nora Frimann released details from the applications of all 37 applicants in an addendum to this week’s council meetings that identified potential conflicts of interest – mostly from several city employees who would need to resign their jobs if chosen to be council members.
  • Under rules approved by a council majority last month, the eight council members and the mayor (who has a council vote) were asked after Jan. 3 to vote for four finalists – stating their “indications of interest”—for each council seat. The council members cast their votes in private, separate from one other.
  • Each council member’s four favorites were not—and will not—be revealed to anyone but City Clerk Toni Taber.
  • The council-preference vote totals for all of the applicants—the 11 finalists and the 26 unsuccessful applicants—will not be revealed by the clerk’s office, said Taber, who said she was acting at the direction of Frimann.
  • The clerk would only say that the 11 finalists she revealed Jan. 13 were the individuals who received at least four votes from council members.

Deliberations this week are public

Citing the “Deliberative Process” section of the California Government Code, Section 6255, Friman told Taber to tell council members and the public that “council member ‘votes of interest for applicants’ are exempt from disclosure because they reveal the deliberations of government officials.”

That section of the state code allows, but does not require such deliberations to be held privately, according to some observers.

In San Jose, for example, a city council directive in December ensured that that section of the state code would not apply to this week’s deliberations, where votes and discussion will be in full public view.

Further, there has been only a partial vetting of the candidates prior to this week’s interviews.

Taber said Frimann conducted a “conflict check” of each candidate and said that “after appointment, we’ll do fingerprints and a background check” of only the two new council members.

She said she was told by human resources that she could not do a complete background check until after the new city council members are sworn in.

The council interviews begin at 3pm Jan. 24 in City Hall council chambers with the five finalists for the District 8 seat vacated by Sylvia Arenas when she was elected to a Santa Clara County Supervisor seat.

A second special council meeting is set for Thursday, Jan. 26 to interview six finalists for the District 10 seat left vacant by the election of former councilmember Matt Mahan as mayor.

At each meeting this week, the city clerk will provide paper vote sheets to each council member who will then write his or her name on the form.

The council members will be asked to select their top three candidates for each district without ranking them, to narrow the next round to three candidates.

The council may then have a discussion while new vote sheets are prepared and printed. The council will then be asked to select their top candidate of the three.

If no candidate receives six or more votes, another round of voting will take place, dropping the candidate with the lowest number of votes. The voting rounds will continue until a final action is approved.

Everyone gets a turn

“Typically, the council members are given 10 minutes for initial questions and then subsequent five minute rounds to make sure everyone gets a turn,” Taber said. There is no limit to the number of five-minute turns they get, she said.

The ground rules are basically to treat every candidate with the same respect and if a question is asked of one candidate, it should be asked of all (unless it’s a follow up question related to the answer given by a candidate), said Taber.

“The final votes by the council for each seat will be in public session and the council deliberations on the selections will be in public session,” she said.

The public can attend meetings in City Hall in person, when comments can be made; or observe the process on Cable Channel 26, on the city government website , or on the city's YouTube channel with no opportunity for public comment at the meeting. Citizens can also use the Zoom link to watch the meeting if they wish to make a comment.

Taber said minutes will be taken and draft minutes will be posted within three days.

Here are the applicants:

District 8, Jan. 24 at 3pm 

  • Patricia Andrade, city community relations employee (she would have to resign if appointed, according to Frimann)
  • Salvador Alvarez, city executive analyst (he would have to resign if chosen, according to Frimann)
  • Sukhdev Bainiwal,  software engineer for Nice North America
  • Domingo Candelas, local government affairs director, Stanford University
  • Tam Truong, San Jose police sergeant (he would have to resign if chosen, according to Frimann)

District 10, Jan. 26 at 3pm

  • Ron Del Pozzo, retired Superior Court Judge
  • Arjun Batra, retired from Intel
  • George Casey, corporate counsel for Unlock Technologies
  • Wendi Mahaney-Gurahoo, self-employed executive coach
  • Dennis Hawkins, retired city employee
  • J. David Heindel, owner of Hotworx fitness centers


Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. I suspect the vacant Council seats will be determined by the final resting positions of dried chicken bones thrown on a table from a dice-cup.

    David S. Wall

  2. I suspect the vacant council seats will be determined by the South Bay Labor Council. The only chickens in this scenario are the council members who refused to allow D8 and D10 residents to vote for their representatives.

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