Council Sees White, Figone Sees Red

Four San Jose councilmembers want City Manager Debra Figone to explain how she hires and ensures diversity in senior staff positions. Few outside searches take place for qualified candidates, and just as few minorities currently hold director-level positions. As a result, Councilmembers Kansen Chu, Ash Kalra, Nancy Pyle, Xavier Campos and Don Rocha sent a memo to the city’s Open Rules and Government Committee asking for data. They also want a discussion on hiring practices to take place at the council level. Figone, who hires top staff and oversees their recruitment, couldn’t attend last week’s Rules meeting, so the matter was deferred to Nov. 2. While Figone has shown a willingness to advance women into prominent roles, it seems that only two of this year’s 12 senior staff appointments are what are conventionally considered minorities in this city of no majority. And one was a replacement for Latina deputy city manager Deanna Santana, now Oakland’s city manager. The cash-strapped city doesn’t have the budget to do nationwide searches for most jobs other than the absolute top spots—police chief, fire chief, city manager—but, right now, Figone isn’t even posting the latest senior staff openings on the city of San Jose website. The memo doesn’t suggest any of the recent appointees are unqualified or that race played a factor in their hiring, but as one of the councilmembers who signed the memo says, “When you look at the whole list, you start doing the math.” Another top position filled by a white internal candidate is the new director of communications, David Vossbrink, who will be replacing long-time city manager mouthpiece Tom Manheim. Vossbrink is used to fielding tough questions. He was the gatekeeper for Ron Gonzales during the former mayor’s office romance and indictment on bribery charges that were later dropped.

The Fly is the valley’s longest running political column, written by Metro Silicon Valley staff, to provide a behind-the-scenes look at local politics. Fly accepts anonymous tips.


  1. Finally, someone is standing up to the city manager and asking questions.  Bad news is guess who sits on the Open Rules and Government Committee, yup you got it!

    Mayor Reed, Chair
    Council Member Nguyen, Vice Chair
    Council Member Constant
    Council Member Oliverio

    Remember who refused to audit the San Jose Incubators which the city lost millions of our dollars on. You got it.  Them again. I appreciate the four council members asking but not holding my breath.  Even if this is agreed on you know it will only happen behind closed doors.  This is how this council works, so much for open government and all the Sunshine BS the mayor puts out.

    “Fly” why not post the Pension reform letter, retired City Attorney Joan Gallo sent to the mayor and council on June 21, 2011.  This is what the public needs to read.  FYI, it was cc. to yes, the current City Attorney and of course our favorite city manager.

    And yes, we are the same people waiting for you Deb to respond to the questions to the COP or did you shut him down altogether.  Responsible citizens do not trust you and for good reason.  Same is true for the majority of the council.

  2. “…it seems that only two of this year’s 12 senior staff appointments are what are conventionally considered minorities in this city of no majority.”

    That was about as well put in these confusing times as it could be.  Thanks for making this clear. A tip: many of the “conventionally considered minorities” are questioning the label “minorities” but that’s up to them to make clear.


    By the way, this issue was thoroughly hashed out on the City Committee on Human Rights under Susan Hammer when Debra Figone was the assistant city manager.  The Mercury News covered it, as did the Metro, I believe.  This is not a new issue.

    • As of this fiscal year, the Human Rights Commission only meets quarterly, and the adopted budget suspended any work on monitoring workforce diversity.  It may not be a new issue, but we’re operating under new circumstances.

  3. this City Manager along with the Dishonorable Chuck Reed are By far the worst things to happen to San Jose .  Homicides on pace to double last years total , Increased violent Crimes , Decreased Police Force and Fire Dept ,  selling real estate to Lew wolfe at a fraction of its true worth ( City losing Millions) .Increased Low-income housing , Unheard of favoritism to Developers , No New Jobs . City turns down $ 500 million dollar pension reform from city employees , rejects pension move to Calpers even thou Mayor and Council are a part of Calpers , Lied that measure V & W would help City increase staffing to public safety ( lay-offs soon followed , creating lowest staffing levels in the nation for public safety) Residents of San Jose pay Debra Figones share of her deffered Comp $16.500 per year X20+ years. Illegaly transfer RDA debt to General Fund ,Illegally pursueing ballot intiative   for pension reform ( already proven to be illegal in many court cases, most recently in Orange County). Residents of San Jose will be paying court costs into the millions for years to come. these are just a small list of this administrations accomplishments

  4. Finally City Manager Figone ( Queen of Darkness ) blatant cronyism, punishing her enemy’s list, back room deals and rewarding her friends with millions in no bid city contracts, and sycophants with promotions is seeing a very little ray of Sunshine

    Will Council finally stand up to their rmployee Figone or is it actually Figone who tells weak Council what decision to make or not do as we see weekly ?

    If you watch a certain political connected downtown law firm you will see Figone, other senior city manager and few favored politicians sneak in the back door for secret off site city business and political deal meetings  

    But you are not supposed to know that is how Figone and friends get around the city’s Sunshine rules.

    Figone and senior staff strongly opposed Sunshine rules so they could do their secret back room deals and political meetings in City Hall and now have to go sneaking around as they now do since Council passed Sunshine rules

  5. Where are minority Council members on this issue ?

    Where is Campos ( Hispanic and Labor ), Nguyen ( Vietnamese ) and Constant ( Republican ) ?

    Why haven’t we heard from possible future Mayor professional politician candidates pandering to minorities for votes ? 

    Sam, Pete, Madison etc – what political speak will you say about lack of city minority hiring by City Manager ?    Wondering

  6. What was in former City attorney’s letter to Council and is city paying her to write letter or was it written for her clients ?

    Please post link so everyone can read entire letter

    • Fly,

      I see you respond, post letter from Joan Gall to city council, June 21, 2011, Item 3.11 (b)  Pension Reform.  Once people see the letter they will know the truth.  She is not being paid by the city and she has no personal interest other than to the the council this will cost the city (us) millions in legal fees.

    • Mayor and City Council Members           Agenda June 21, 2011
                            Item#  3.11)b)

      RE: Pension Reform

      Dear Mayor Reed and Councilmember’s:

      I am representing only myself in this matter.  As a retired San Jose City Attorney familiar with this issue, I am bewildered as to what the city would undertake an action, which is so clearly violates the contract clause of the California and the Federal Constitutions.

      A long line of California Supreme Court cases establishes that retirees’ pension rights are an integral portion of contemplated compensation, which cannot be changed once they have vested (1).  Similarly, vested rights are protected under the contract clause Art. 1 S 10 of the United States Constitution.

      The California Supreme Court has held that with respect to active employees, some limited modification of vested pension rights has been allowed but the resulting disadvantage to employees, must be accompanied by comparable new advantages. 2 As a to retired employees, the scope of continuing governmental power appears to be ever more restricted.  The retiree is entitled to the fulfillment of the contract, which already has been preformed without detrimental modification.  The impairment provision does not prevent restricting retirees to the gain reasonably to be expected from the contract (3).

      It appears that you are being told that the Emergency Declaration, which you are contemplating, gives you the power to supersede the long established vested rights principles.  In fact, a post Proposition 13 case (4) that deals with a charter amendment, which places a 3% cap on police and fire pension benefit cost of living adjustments is so directly on the point that I have attached it so you can read it yourselves.

      Have your lawyers given you any authority that says you can enact a change in retiree COLA’s?  Have they provided some case authority that emergency modifications can continue beyond the period of the actual inability to appropriate the funds to pay the retirees as requested?  If so, please let me know what legal authority is being relied on.

      It seems to me that placing restraints on the COLA’s in the charter only diminishes any argument that the change is justified by a state of emergency.  It underlines the fact that the goal is to create permanent restructuring which is not a justification for diminishing vested rights.  For both policy and legal reasons, I urge you not to put the proposed reduction of retirees’ COLA into the charter.

      I hope that you have fully considered the potential costs to the City of the litigation that would result if there is a successful ballot measure reducing the retiree COLA benefits.  Since the City Attorney Office has a conflict, you will have outside attorneys and need to pay their fees regardless of the outcome.  You could face some unknown number of different lawsuits from the various bargaining units and individual retirees as well as the Retirement Association If the enforcement of the ballot measure were not immediately enjoined and you lose the litigation (which seems to me to be inevitable to regard o current retirees), there will be interest owed to all of the individual retirees.  Also, since the retirees’ claimed will be constitutional bases, you may have to pay the attorney fees of the retiree plaintiffs.  Inviting this litigation seems vet short sighted to me.

      Thank you for the serious attention to this matter.  I know the process of structuring needed to reform is difficult but I urge you to consider the tenuousness of your legal position as well as the detriment to loyal long term staff who retired in reliance on the benefits they have earned.

      (1)  Kern v. City of Long Beach (1947) 29 /cal 2d 848, 853
      (2)  Allen v. Long Beach (1955) 45 Cal 2d 128. 131
      (3)  Abbott v. City of Los Angeles (1958) 50 Cal 2d. 438
      (4)  United Firefighters of Los Angeles. (1958) 50 Cal 2d 438

      Written by Retied City Attorney Joan R. Gallo

      CC: Rick Doyle
      Debra Figone

  7. What happened to being fair ? What about the best person for the job?  Do we care only about skin color? Tell me about a qualified person who was not selected and a white person was picked over a minority who was more qualified.

    The idea that a minority in bay area Ned’s an advantage is just an excuse. Maybe all the minorities had better job offers or did not want to work for a messed up city like San Jose. If I was a qualified say black male I would think he would have or recognize there are more than a few private sector jobs that would hire and pay far better.  Right now San Jose is not the place the best of the best come looking for its the place the best say they are gong to leave real soon.

    Who wants to come work for a city that has turned on its employees following the head cheerleader chuck Reed. Almost every person on the council has a scandal. Built libraries and police stations staffed by ghosts. Do not forget the fifty million or more dollars in land scams for a ball park. Baseball clubs are mostly in the red and Reed wants to give 500,000,000 dollar loan to a ball club? Want to bet the a’s will be San Jose’s version of a solar panel scam.  Smart people do not want to work for San Jose anymore. They are afraid it will ruin their career

  8. Not enough minorities huh …..  I suggest the city start looking into every department and find out what the ethnic makeup is among the rank and file (non-management).  They should match the local population.  I can tell you in some departments that Mexicans and African Americans are under represented and Asians are over represented.  In fact I’d even say among the new hires even whites are under represented.

  9. Sadly, unless there is a real legal threat, discrimination will always be practiced within the senior ranks of the city. If the council is serious they should speak to the employee relations guy.

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