Cupertino Courier

Santa Clara to welcome new city attorney

- By Vandana Ravikumar vravikumar@ bayareanew­

Santa Clara soon will have a new city attorney, appointed over a year after his predecesso­r — a frequent critic of the San Francisco 49ers — was fired under murky circumstan­ces that have remained a frequent point of contention among members of the City Council.

Former Chula Vista City Attorney Glenn Googins was chosen for the role earlier last month, and Jan. 31, the council approved a $345,000 yearly salary for the position. But neither of those votes were unanimous — Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmem­ber Kathy Watanabe voted against the appointmen­t earlier last month, and the two were joined by Councilmem­ber Anthony Becker in voting against Googins' yearly salary.

Googins, who's set to start the job March 1, will be earning more than previous City Attorney Brian Doyle — according to city documents, Doyle was paid $332,796 in 2021.

Gillmor and Watanabe said they voted against the two motions not because of reservatio­ns they had with Googins himself, but because of the looming controvers­y surroundin­g Doyle's dismissal.

Doyle became the city attorney in 2017 and was fired in September 2021. He filed a claim with the city shortly afterward alleging wrongful terminatio­n, breach of contract and retaliator­y discharge. At the time of his firing, Gillmor said she believed the 49ers wanted the council to terminate Doyle's employment to allow the team to dodge oversight of the stadium and avoid court decisions that might disadvanta­ge them.

The former city manager, Deanna Santana, also was fired in February 2022, several months after Doyle's dismissal. The council voted 4-2 to terminate Santana, citing a “lack of confidence” in her abilities and saying that city employees had expressed concerns about whether she had the best interests of the city in mind. Gillmor, who disagreed with Santana's firing, said the move left the local government “gutted” and “put our residents in jeopardy with no management at City Hall,” as the city had not yet appointed an interim city attorney to take Doyle's place.

Santana's salary was a point of contention during her employment with the city — in 2020, she was compensate­d $765,152, consisting of a base salary of $521,527 and an additional $243,625 in benefits, making her the second-highest paid city manager in California. She also was an outspoken critic of the 49ers, having accused them of mismanagin­g the stadium and not maintainin­g their financial obligation­s to the city.

Last April, the city hired the Walnut Creek-based law firm Lozano Smith to provide city attorney services and appointed Rajeev Batra as interim city manager. Steve Ngo, an attorney with Lozano Smith, became the interim city attorney, and Batra, who previously had served as the interim city attorney from April 2016 to October 2017, came out of retirement to take on the role for a second time.

Five members of the council — Becker, Karen Hardy, Suds Jain, Raj Chahal

and Kevin Park — have been accused repeatedly of voting in the 49ers' interests, including their votes to terminate Doyle and Santana, though they've rejected those allegation­s numerous times. The allegation­s that the councilmem­bers wrongfully terminated Doyle — and then repeated the same behavior with Santana the following February — were included in a civil grand jury report that accused them of having an unethical relationsh­ip with the 49ers at the expense of the city and Santa Clarans.

“We still have not settled with the last city attorney, so there's going to be additional money the city's going to have to pay as well,” Gillmor said at the meeting Jan. 31.

“It has nothing to do with Mr. Googins, but just how this whole process played out,” Watanabe said, explaining her vote against the motion.

“The whole process has cost our city so much money by firing the last city attorney with no cause, by hiring the interim city attorney company (for) over a million dollars for less than a year and now going through this, and recruiters and attorneys — I'm not supporting this,” Gillmor continued. “The financial decisions have been horrendous on this.”

Meanwhile, Becker said he voted against the motion because he didn't approve of how high the proposed salary was. He added that he was not on the council when the previous city attorney and city manager salaries were approved, and that he didn't agree with those amounts, either.

“I don't agree with these high salaries, just like how I didn't agree with the high salaries you approved for our former city manager and our former city attorney, and that was years ago,” Becker said, referring to the council's support for those previous salaries. “I just want to make sure the facts are reflected and the transparen­cy is spoken.”

Park, who voted in favor of the city attorney salary, said the higher pay correlated to a higher cost of living and said he didn't think the increase was anything unusual.

“I think that this council — the ones that can do math — actually understand what the costs are, but we also know what the costs are by not having a city attorney,” Park said. “Good attorney services are expensive … we need to be respectful for their times and their jobs, and find something the city can rely on a permanent basis.”

The meeting Jan. 31 was also the last one with interim City Manager Batra, who said his goodbyes to the City Council in the final moments of the meeting.

The city has yet to appoint a new city manager to fulfill Batra's role. The city did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment from the Mercury News regarding when the next city manager might be appointed.

“The only thing I regret is, I wish the new city manager was here and that the baton could have easily been passed,” Batra told the councilmem­bers. “But I assure you I'm always available — to the new city manager, to the staff, to you, because I'll be bored anyway — I'll be looking for your calls.”

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