Milpitas Takes First Step to Fire Embattled City Manager

Milpitas authorized the firing of its embattled city manager earlier this week.

In a 4-0 vote, with Mayor Rich Tran recusing himself, the City Council agreed in closed session Tuesday to “take the procedural steps necessary” to terminate Tom Williams.

It’s unclear what Williams, 53, will come away with when all is said and done. His attorney, Claire Cochran, did not respond to a request for comment.

The city manager of 11 years allegedly violated city policy—and potentially criminal law—when he misused taxpayer money to pay for his own legal fees. According to the terms of his work contract, that misstep could cost him all or some of his severance and benefits.

Williams has come under fire for years over what a litany of past employees call an explosive temper and retaliatory behavior. Williams’ combative tendencies have dragged the city into several lawsuits that have cost the city millions of dollars.

The city’s first-term mayor spent his campaign and the first months of his time in office criticizing Williams, which put them at odds from the start. Tran accused Williams of prompting needless litigation that put taxpayers on the hook and prompted an exodus of high-ranking city staffers.

Williams fired back by demanding $1 million from the city in a lawsuit accusing Tran of harassment and age discrimination. When reporters tried to obtain Williams’ personnel records and correspondence with the 32-year-old mayor, the city manager sued Metro Silicon Valley (which runs San Jose Inside) and the Milpitas Post to block the release of the records.

It only got worse for Williams when it came to light that he tried to use $37,000 in public money to cover the cost of his personal battle with Tran. City attorney Chris Diaz admonished Williams for the misstep and warned him that his actions could merit criminal prosecution.

San Jose Inside then learned that Williams appears to have committed a similar violation a couple years earlier. Though the District Attorney’s Office has confirmed that it had an eye on the situation, it’s unclear at this point whether Williams’ misappropriation will lead to criminal charges.

Williams has been on paid leave since May, when Milpitas Police Chief Steve Pangelinan stepped up as acting city manager. The council plans to vote on Williams’ termination at its next scheduled meeting Sept. 5.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Not wanting to embarrass congress with a speedy well thought out solution to wasting money, the process drags on.

  2. Why was this strange, disruptive bird allowed to remain in his position for so many years? The sooner he’s gone, the better. Taxpayers deserve better.

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