How does a city council schedule a closed-door meeting about the city attorney’s performance without tipping him off to a months-long investigation into his actions? Santa Clara’s electeds clearly haven’t figured that out yet.
The seven-member council convened last week for City Attorney Brian Doyle’s job review. Councilwoman Kathy Watanabe’s loose lips set the ship off course by asking about an investigation during the public meeting—much to Doyle’s visible surprise.
Voyeurs tracking Santa Clara City Hall’s perennial drama know Doyle’s accused of blowing a chance to settle a California Voters Right Act lawsuit against the city. The settlement could have saved taxpayers $1 million and now some residents want to throw Doyle overboard.
The job review was scuttled after Mayor Lisa Gillmor treated her colleagues to an hour-long dissection of the technicalities of the process, parsing the verbiage and legalese that led to the meeting and ultimately arguing rules hadn’t been followed.
The requirement and timelines for public meetings can be daunting even for experienced officials, which is why they often seek advice from their in-house counsel. That’s tricker when rookie reps occupy nearly half the dias and the city attorney is bypassed due to competency questions.
City Manager Deanna Santana said her staff knowingly violated no laws in facilitating the meeting, though that didn't assuage conspiracy theories. Eventually, Jenica Maldonado of Rennie Public Law, the city’s outside legal counsel, advised the electeds to reconsider the issue another day to ensure they didn’t violate any transparency laws.
But the damage was done in exposing the confidential investigation to residents and Doyle, who now must wonder in slow motion how secure his $300,000 a year job really is.