The Santa Clara City Council Wednesday evening voted 5-2 behind closed doors to fire City Attorney Brian Doyle “for no cause,” ending months of speculation and rumors about the contentious lawyer’s fate.
The vote was preceded by warnings from Doyle and his own attorney that the termination was unfair and illegal, and it was sandwiched between critical comments from citizens mostly defending Doyle. One caller into the Zoom meeting accused the council majority of following the wishes of their “49ers puppet masters.”
Doyle has represented the city in multiple legal battles with the San Francisco 49ers over management of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
After the council vote, Councilmember Kathy Watanabe, who opposed Doyle’s dismissal, said he “was used as a scapegoat for previous city administrations’ inability to act in a timely manner regarding a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit.” The council majority had been vocal critics of the way Doyle handled the lawsuit, which cost the city $6 million.
Watanabe had first revealed the existence of an internal investigation of Doyle’s performance four months ago. She and Mayor Lisa Gillmor opposed Wednesday’s action.
“The majority of the city council has determined that they no longer want [Brian Doyle] to serve at their pleasure,” Gillmor announced after the council executive session. “The vote was to terminate the city attorney for no cause.”
Voting to fire Doyle were Vice Mayor Raj Chahal, and Councilmembers Suds Jain, Kevin Park, Karen Hardy and Anthony Becker. They made no comments following the vote.
“Our city attorney is dismissed without cause,” Gillmor told Zoom, YouTube and Facebook audiences.
The agenda of the special council meeting had not mentioned Doyle or his position, stating simply that the meeting was called to consider the “discipline, dismissal or release” of an unidentified city employee.
“While the council has not identified the employee whose discipline, dismissal or release will be under consideration at tonight’s closed session ... all indications are that it is the city attorney,” Thomas Stout, who is acting as Doyle’s attorney, told the council during public comments. Stout is a former federal prosecutor, whose Oakland law firm specializes in “complex civil litigation, white collar defense and government and internal investigations.”
Stout formally requested the meeting on Doyle’s job “be held in open session so the people of Santa Clara have complete transparency about the actions of their elected officials and the reasons for those actions.”
He said Doyle received no written notice of this meeting, and that the city is stalling on a public records request for documents pertaining to Doyle’s dismissal.
“Mr. Doyle has had no assurance that the meeting was called legally, nor does he have any notice of what reasons given, if any, there may be for his discipline, dismissal or release,” said Stout. “If the council votes to discipline or fire the city attorney tonight, it will have done so in secret and for no legal reason. Mr. Doyle does not want these proceedings to be held in secret. In whose interest does the secrecy serve?”
Doyle also spoke before the vote, defending his four-year tenure.
“Throughout my tenure, regardless of the challenges, I have remained focused on ethically and competently doing my job,” Doyle said. “With the city currently facing a variety of legal challenges with significant long-term implications for the community, now is not the time to create a vacuum in its legal team’s leadership. I’m committed to finishing the job I started.”
In a Facebook post, Watanabe said that since 2017, Doyle “has addressed the flagrant inadequacies demonstrated by the 49ers management and tried to bring them into compliance with the law, identification of wage theft, lack of procurement policies and so much more when a municipal stadium is involved and putting the city at risk with state law.”
“This council has now taken action to ruin the 40-year career of a hard-working city employee and resident of Santa Clara,” she wrote on Facebook. “They have done the bidding of the stadium management that got them elected with a $3 million campaign in November 2020. It took less than a year to achieve the goal of dismissing the person who stands in the way of the stadium management being accountable to the Stadium Authority and city staff. It took less than a year to dismiss the person who has been successful in beating the stadium management in court.”
Watanabe called this week’s council vote “disgraceful and embarrassing.”