Community Letter About Good Governance
June 27, 2019
Dear Santa Clara Community,
I am writing this community letter in response to recent criticisms regarding Santa Clara’s public records management practices and a Santa Clara resident’s letter to the editor calling for staff resignations. I cannot stay silent against these unwarranted and misinformed statements.
Transparency of a High-Risk Organization since January 2018
In January 2018, as the new City Manager, I issued a 90-day public report about my professional risk assessment of the organization at the City Council Priority & Goal Setting Session. At this meeting, I described to the City Council the existence of a high-risk work environment and I transparently disclosed several critical administrative gaps, which caused me concern. This included public records management practices and resources that I inherited from past administrations. I stated that we could not just add resources to the manual, decentralized and inefficient systems; we needed to apply professional expertise to make the necessary improvements. I did not need the Civil Grand Jury to release a report to know that our system needed addressing, and I was the first City Manager to report on this problem to the City Council.
In fact, in January 2018, I stated that stabilizing the City’s fiscal condition is our number one priority because it is from the City’s financial stability that all services are rooted. In other words, without first resolving our projected deficit, the City could not look to add resources in high-risk service areas because the financial outlook required layoffs and significant service reductions. I recommended, and Council supported, that we make stabilizing our financial outlook our key priority. While making unprecedented improvements to the City’s financial forecast from January through June 2018, which had a projected deficit of $40+ million at that time, I prudently found a strategy to add resources for the City’s first Public Records Manager with the City Council’s support. The City recruited for this position in fall 2018.
Business Imperative regarding Employee Resources to Address High-Risk Areas Announced in January 2019
In January 2019, at the City Council Priority & Goal Setting Session, I announced that the new Public Records Manager had just started and provided an update on the City’s public records workload, including the status of a useful software system. Although the former elected City Clerk had procured the software system before I became City Manager, no effort was made to implement it. Yet, throughout this period, the number of public record requests had increased to such a degree that the new Public Records Manager could not respond to all of them (each with 100s – 1,000s of documents to review prior to releasing) while at the same time implementing the software that had been procured. My report on public records data, management and assessment can be watched online (remarks begin at 1:03:48).
Unfortunately, certain media outlets and local special interests are not interested in providing the public with a complete picture of the City’s transparent efforts to improve public records management. In fact, their accusations omit my concerted efforts to add the needed resources to this area. They have not acknowledged that public records management and resources have been a part of my key focus.
Indeed, our actions clearly demonstrate that we are advancing the needed improvements, which are:
- Remain compliant with the California Public Records Act (the law);
- Collect and track data regarding the high volume of public record requests;
- Provide training to staff on responding to public records act and on software systems, upon implementation;
- Invest, recruit and appoint a professional Public Records Manager;
- Recruit and hire additional part-time staff to support response to public record requests; and
- Report out annually, in public and before the City Council, on the process to reform this decentralized, inefficient service area to a modern, digitized system citywide.
Grand Jury Report & Local Special Interests in the Media
Last week, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury issued a report critical of the City’s public records access. While we can confirm that the current process is manual and inefficient, our responses were not in violation of the Public Records Act law and the City disagrees with the tone and findings of the report. You can view the City’s statement about this report. In fact, the public records process was not the initial focus of the complaint made to the Civil Grand Jury.
Fueled by the Civil Grand Jury report, a Santa Clara resident submitted a letter to the editor of the Metro newspaper/San Jose Inside online publication, demanding resignations and suggesting that the City is not compliant with the California Public Records Act. Statements that the City is out of compliance are reckless and uninformed. Calling for the Public Records Manager’s resignation, who has only been with the City for less than six months, is also reckless and uninformed. Frankly, these special interests should have vocalized their criticisms when the former City Managers and City Clerk allowed for these conditions to exist for decades and without any effort to cure the manual and inefficient problem. I am thankful that the Council is wiser and grateful that I surfaced these issues and did not shy away from the need to fix these conditions.
The Santa Clara Weekly’s publisher, in his long standing and unfounded criticism of the Mayor, also published an opinion piece this week and revisited the City’s and the Santa Clara Stadium Authority’s agreements with a communications consultant. Again, these contracts were administered according to City procurement rules, and the Mayor had nothing to do with these procurements.
We are putting processes in place to centralize and modernize our public records process. After decades of manual and decentralized processes, this kind of modernization does not happen overnight. At the August 27, 2019 Council meeting, staff will present a full response to the Civil Grand Jury report and address the report’s findings along with our efforts to date.
Forward Focus & Continued Reforms with Proven Unprecedented Accomplishments
During Tuesday’s Council meeting, Mayor Gillmor spoke out in support of me, City staff and all the reforms we are implementing. View the Mayor’s remarks in the meeting video (begins at the 2:37:12 mark).
Transparency in government has been a foundational pillar throughout my entire career and is a Strategic Pillar of the Mayor and City Council. It is ironic that transparency is, in fact, one of the reasons for these attacks. The transparency measures that we are implementing are disrupting those who prospered from non-transparent ways. Just look at our budget, annual reports, one-year accomplishments, State of the City approach and community letter, increased social media posts, and bi-weekly City Manager’s blogs to name a few. No other City Manager has ever done this much direct communication with our residents. My record on the state of public records management has been fully transparent.
With the support of the City Council, I will continue to move forward with reforms that support good governance and enhance service delivery.
In community spirit,
Deanna J. Santana