City Hall’s Holiday Conundrum

With so much important business to be done at City Hall these days, one would think petty arguments over wishing someone “Happy Holidays” were a thing of the past. And one would be so very, very wrong in making that assumption.

An article posted Friday afternoon on the Mercury News’ website blows the lid off a holiday controversy, which reporter John Woolfolk dubbed “Greeting-gate”—because any controversy worth its salt should have a “gate” on the end. No exceptions.

Apparently, the brouhaha started when Councilmember Xavier Campos had the temerity to ask City Manager Debra Figone “to send holiday greetings on his behalf to city workers.” Here is how Woolfolk summarized Campos’ bold attempt to strike while the holiday season iron was hot:

“City workers have suffered a beating lately, taking 10 percent pay and benefit cuts as hard times have widened budget shortfalls and forced layoffs. So Campos asked if Figone could email his well wishes to the city’s entire workforce of 5,400. He and his staff posed in front of a Christmas tree in the City Hall lobby for a note that said: ‘Happy Holidays from Council Member Xavier Campos and the District 5 Staff. Seasons greetings and may your holidays be filled with happiness.’”

Not wanting Campos to be the lone councilmember extending his greetings—or worse, show a tree in his card and hint at the C-bomb (a.k.a. Christmas) at the expense of other holidays—Figone cited Charter Section 411 in an email to the mayor and councilmembers. She wrote that it’s not “good practice” for the mayor or councilmembers to have individual correspondence with the workforce.

Here is what Charter Section 411 has to say:

SECTION 411. The Council; Interference With Administrative Matters.

Neither the Council nor any of its members nor the Mayor shall interfere with the execution by the City Manager of his or her powers and duties, nor in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any City officers or employees whom the City Manager is empowered to appoint except as expressly provided in Section 411.1. However, the Council may express its views and fully and freely discuss with the City Manager anything pertaining to the appointment and removal of such officers and employees.

Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations under Section 416, the Council, its members and the Mayor shall deal with City officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the City Manager, City Attorney, City Auditor, Independent Police Auditor or City Clerk, solely through the City Manager, City Attorney, City Auditor, Independent Police Auditor or City Clerk, respectively, and neither the Council nor its members nor the Mayor shall give orders to any subordinate officer or employee, either publicly or privately.

Methinks the city manager might have been showing who’s the boss by not allowing Campos to “go rogue” and send his own holiday greetings, but there is a valid point to be made. Giving one councilmember the right to send out holiday wishes could lead to an envious chain of emails from other councilmembers, some of whom would rather cancel Christmas than be outdone in voicing their appreciation of the city’s workforce.

The compromise was each councilmember and the mayor crafting their own personal well-wishes in a group greeting card. The difference in each each person’s approach is instructive.

Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen’s message begins, “As the holidays approach,” which was a strategic and inclusive move, as Christmas is Sunday, Dec. 25, and Chanukah begins Tuesday, Dec. 20. Meanwhile, Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. (If we’re leaving out a holiday, it’s because of space. See a full list of holidays for all of December at Holiday Insights. For example, did you know that Dec. 19, Monday, is Oatmeal Muffin Day? Of course you did. But not everyone knows about Humbug Day, which occurs every year on Dec. 21. On the other hand, city employees might feel like everyday is Humbug Day after the way they’ve been scrooged this year. Zing!)

Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio played it safe by not even mentioning the holidays when he wrote, “Wishing you and your family the best of health in 2012.” Meanwhile, Councilmember Pete Constant stuck to his conservative Christian roots in his message. “As my family and I celebrate Christmas, we revel in fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home and family,” he wrote. “We hope your holiday season is merry and wish you a Happy New Year.”

Constant was the lone person to include his staff—minus one secretary—in the greetings.

At the end of his article, Woolfolk notes that Campos thought the issue was “blown out of proportion” and he “simply wanted to make a nice gesture.” We disagree.

Now it has been properly blown out of proportion.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.


  1. Seems you need some love since you got on your soap box.  To make people feel like you doing your job. Just what do you do anyway besides filling a politically correct city manager appointed seat.  Cops don’t need cameras.  It’s really simple when officers are in your house you don’t point guns at them.  You just may get shot. So Ms. Cordell go back to your office and monitor the case.  Try to act like your earning your huge pay check and soon to be huge pension.  Then report back that the officers acted properly.

    • Confirm the “head-camera” experiment already took place at SJPD, but it actually cost millions to maintain the program.  Lets get federal money to get those cameras, but not Federal money to hire bodies to put those cameras on.  Its a slap in the face to have this current group of politicians wishing their “over-paid,gravy-train, useless” employees the best after they have fired…oops “layed-off”, cut salaries and better yet declared war on their undeserving retirement.  I hope they go to your briefings on Christmas day and New Years day to blow smoke up your a#$. Happy Holidays…..P.O….you are still the greatest!!!!

    • Ms. Cordell,

      You seem to be acting like some neglected city employee that everyone is ignoring.  Yet you make WAY TOO money from the city for just being a political puppet to make Queen Deb look good, and yet you act like Mr. John Burris sending out letters to all that feel they have violated by police.  “CALL ME SO I CAN FOLLOW YOUR CASE, I NEED TO JUSTIFY MY OVER PAID SALERY”.

      Nice article in todays Mercury news, it is so obvious you hate the police department as much as Deb and Chuck.  Bet Deb and Chuck and the clown council don’t mention or care what your pension(s) are going to be when you leave.  What is your sick time, vacation and OT payout going to be.  How is that free car, gas and God knows what else is.  Deb, can I say GOD or does that violate city policy?


    • A video recording device is what propelled LaDoris Cordell into prominence back in 1994 when she stage-managed the assault on conservative City Council Member Kathy Cole. 

      Cole had convened a meeting of leading African-American citizens in a confidential seminar in an effort to motivate them to greater political participation.  Unfortunately, Cole illustrated her remarks with two or three extremely mild gestures that were then seized upon by her ideological opponents who usually allow slurs to pass unnoticed. 

      A secret video was released by LaDoris Cordell who rode it to local stardom even though the meeting was entirely innocent of malice. Cordell promoted the video in front of the old city hall on a rented television set.

      It’s pretty clear what Cordell wants…evidence of a slip of the tongue or an act of disdain by a law enforcement officer…end of job for the officer, more glory for Cordell.

      Too bad Cordell isn’t sincere in her opposition to slurs in general…her efforts have been very narrowly directed only against her ideological opponents, not slurs in general by all the powerful.

      • LaDorris Cordell and Craig Mann often jump the broom when they discuss diversity in San Jose.

        To them, one group nust hang their head in shame while others can remind them that their homes in the foothills could be used to house more people from poor areas.

        When a poltician like Rico or Craig gets in trouble, they scream the W word!

    • Several decades ago the Venice Division of LAPD got federal $$ (OUR money sent to D.C. with a portion removed before being returned to various places) to buy cameras to monitor DUI arrests.  Use of the cameras ceased when it was discovered that there was a higher acquittal rate when the video of the field sobriety tests and arrest were shown to juries.  The expensive fed cameras were tossed.

  2. The City Manager should be ashamed of herself. The word tyrannical doesn’t begin to describe her stranglehold on the City of San Jose. She may want to refrain from citing the too many city charter sections as someone may stumble upon the section that allows for the removal of the City Manager.

  3. Typical , Doug Figone is worried about “wording” in a Holiday message . HEY Tato Head , we have bigger worries in this city. Do you honestly think the workers of this city care about the “wording” or even the message?  Gee lets see , Demonize the workers , Make them pay more for medical/Dental , 10% total Comp. paycut,illegal ballot measure for pension reform.all this while screaming Fiscal Emergency(lies) and spending millions on a stadium proposal , and millions more on Redeveloping McEnery Center( paid for out of General Fund) Did I leave anything out? Keep your phoney wishes to yourselves

  4. I support the principle that the city mgr is putting forward here. I, for one, could do without ten separate councilmember e-mails bombarding my Outlook inbox at this time. And, of course, the larger issue is that the City Council is a separate branch of the City government and should leave staff unmolested.

    But why start enforcing this principle now? For at least the last 11 years that I know of, individual CMs have been sending out messages “to all staff” from time to time, announcing news about their own personal pet projects ranging from same-sex equality (Pierluigi) to the hoisting of the Mexican flag over City Hall on Mexican independence day (the insufferable Campos siblings)… and various others. Hopefully those helpful updates will be coming to an end too?

  5. To Chuck, Deb and the rest of you on the council who are too politically correct and cowards!  Bo HA!  Suck some coal.

    To the rest of the city I wish all of you a Happy Holiday.

    And to those of you that still have a city job I wish you a Merry Christmas and wish you the best in the future.


  6. So after reading the Charter section is it not pretty clear that this section is in regards to interfering in the management of the employees and not incidental contact? As with any policy you have to look at the context the policy is written in. There is nothing there saying the Council can not communicate at all with employees it says “deal with” employees, see the quote below:

    “Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations under Section 416, the Council, its members and the Mayor shall deal with City officers and employees”

    Sending a Christmas card is not dealing with employees in the context of the Charter. I wonder what a Lawyer would say about Figone’s interpretation of the Charter. City Council stop by fire stations and show up on large fires and they communicate with employees so is that against the Charter too?

    Sorry but this city tries to be so politically correct it makes you puke. On top of that, how inconsistent they are. Campos can’t take a picture in front of the Christmas Tree in the City Hall Lobby because it could be perceived as endorsing a religion but the tree is in City Hall endorsing a religion! WOW! Do you people not see the hypocrisy?

    This Manager is like a little Queen/King in her own little Kingdom. Too bad Campos just doesn’t send out the cards and see what she does. Can the Queen fire the council member?  She would then have to prove her interpretation of the Charter is legal. Just saying.

  7. Taking Scrooge Figone’s interpretation to it’s absurd conclusion, I guess if the mayor or a councilmember gets on an elevator with a city employee, they cannot speak to each other…or one of them has to exit the elevator.

  8. I suspect if the city’s employees could send a greeting of their own to Debra Figone they could, despite the diversity of their beliefs and backgrounds, agree to a simple two-word message that referenced neither religion nor season, but simply rhymed with that sage advice on what one should do upon seeing others hit the ground following a startling boom, that being, “duck too.”

  9. The City of San Jose mandates that all employees enjoy—but with sensitivity to those less fortune who are suffering the consquences of the Bush tax cuts—a vibrant and diverse, merriment free, non religiously oppressive, non-judgemental paid federal holiday.

    There.  Problem solved.

    Move along and go about your business.

      • Can you say that?
        It’s America and I can say just about anything I want! wink Who set these stupid rules any way? Who are the PC Police?

        I’m tired of this PC BS. We don’t have before and after HOLIDAY sales, we have before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year sales. I guess we are only allowed to say Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year if we are holding a sale!

        It’s all so dam dumb I just can’t believe it. 

        So, Merry Christmas, and HAPPY New Year! wink

  10. HAPPY HOLIDAYS – really? Is not Christmas (and Christmas Eve) a nationally, state and locally recognized holiday, in which employee’s get a paid day off?

    If we can’t recognize or say Christmas, then we shoule eliminate the paid day off!

    (I’m glad at least one counselor mentioned Christmas!)

  11. ” Neither the Council nor any of its members nor the Mayor shall interfere with the execution by the City Manager of his or her powers and duties, ” 

    City Manager as San Jose’s Chief Grinch wanted to steal Christmas ( How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  ) from city employees and was upset that ” Council members ” exercising their free speech rights wishing everyone Happy Holidays, after her year long morale lowering statements and actions

    Happy Holidays everyone, even the Grinch Figone

  12. This year city employees got coal in their stocking or worst, but the Grinch got her pot of gold by doing what most people find mean spirited, despicable and against Christmas spirit against her fellow city workers

    Merry Christmas to all, and may next year be cheery and bright

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