Santa Clara City Manager Raises Eyebrows Over Hiring Practices

Santa Clara City Manager Deanna Santana just can’t seem to escape charges of cronyism.

To help pick up the slack as development in the Mission City picks back up post-pandemic, Santana announced this month the city is creating a new position: Assistant Director of the Community Development Department, which deals with planning, zoning, housing and development.

Santana said she plans to “move quickly on this so that we can continue to stabilize this department,” which will soon have two of three managerial positions vacant below Director Andrew Crabtree, and 15 vacant budgeted positions as of April 21.

But when pressed about her expeditious timeline and efforts to attract talent to Santa Clara, Santana wouldn’t commit to making the search for the $188,462 to $245,000 salaried gig an open recruitment process, saying she hasn’t “made those decisions yet.”

The curt retort raised eyebrows, given her well-publicized, speckled history of hiring outside professionals from other cities and personal pals into high-paying roles, what some have dubbed “bringing in of the ‘friendlies.’”

The Silicon Valley Voice reported in January 2020 five of the 10 highest salaried positions were Santana’s former colleagues—hired within her first two years at the city’s helm. Additionally, 22 of the 42 people newly hired in management gigs from 2017 to 2019 worked with Santana or her employees.

Santana said internal staff are allowed to provide feedback on applicants, but defended her yearslong, charter-given right to personally vet and have the final say.

“I am concerned about council interference within the appointment process of which, under the city charter, is a duty that I'm responsible for,” Santana said, eliciting a deep nod from Mayor Lisa Gillmor. “I am not concerned about recruiting or appointing for this position.

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  1. As a former HR employee in Santa Clara, I have direct knowledge of Santana’s irregular hiring practices. It goes beyond hiring her friends who are beholden to her. She has hired managers without background checks, without interviews, and without following any established protocols for management hires. Her office has issued employment offer letters without any HR involvement. She has also hired a manager who never (pre-COVID) entered city hall, never participated in any onboarding process, worked entirely remotely, had no subordinates, and rarely participated in management meetings. And she rewards them with salaries that are at least 30% higher than city salaries were prior to her appointment.

  2. Santana is also spearheading a budget proposal that will eliminate the Community Theatre program that has been an asset to the city’s youth and teens for over 52 years.
    The Roberta Jones Theatre group is as important to the city of Santa Clara as is any other community programs that are offered.
    Santana should take a cut in her $700,000 salary to keep the theatre program in place.

  3. I completely agree with the comment above, though I will add you don’t need to be in HR to see what’s going on. It makes sense to hire people you know/have worked with if they are competent, but 1) the city is a public agency that subsists on taxpayer dollars that should be spent with more integrity and 2) there are so many people who have been working hard at the City and their talent is completely ignored. In the last few years, it’s become very obvious that the chances of promoting into management roles are almost nonexistent. There is zero investment on her part to help current employees grow, she only cares about her management friends. It is also absurd when employees hear there is no money to give wage increases while high level positions being added and the people who do the work are stretched so thin they can barely keep up with the demands from upper management. She demands to be compensated as though she worked in the private sector, and she treats the city like a private company too, but hourly workers cannot even aspire to match the basic benefits of a private company, such as some form of family medical insurance, without having to deduct huge proportions of wages from their paychecks.

  4. The city of Santa Clara has second or third tier status in the valley. Ambitious people might start out there, but will frequently move when the opportunity presents itself. The way the city government/schools is run and preforms is definitely part of the problem. BTW, Santana’s salary is beyond mind-boggling. How have things evolved to this?

  5. Transparent California is an amazing resource. Santana herself made over $500k in 2019, the last year which records are available. Her total compensation that year was $700k.

    This idea of city officials telling private companies how they should behave when it comes to hiring should apply here as well.

  6. Overcompensated, career government bureaucrats such as Santana live in a fantasy world completely disconnected from reality as they leapfrog each other around and around the public trough.

  7. Well, they have a circus clown as a city attorney, and a complete buffoon as city clerk.

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