SANTA CLARA — Her salary was already one of the highest among city managers in California when she arrived four years ago, and now Deanna Santana’s latest raise of $20,000 has sparked another heated debate how much is too much.
Some Santa Clara City Council members who weren’t there when Santana was offered the city manager job in 2017 want his contract overhauled. They say they’ve heard numerous constituent complaints about Santana’s $468,674.97 salary, and it doesn’t help that the city’s budget has been hit by the pandemic.
Santana did not respond to an email seeking comment, but in a Dec. 14 meeting she called suggestions that she should not receive her agreed-upon 4.5% cost-of-living adjustment “bullying and hostility at work”.
In a statement, city spokesman Lon Peterson defended Santana’s salary.
“The City of Santa Clara is an extremely complex organization that provides multiple lines of services including the Stadium Authority, Silicon Valley Power, water and sewer utilities, and other utilities provided by public agencies. , such as police, fire, parks and recreation, libraries, public works, planning and construction,” Peterson said in an email.
“Due to the complexity and structure of the organization, 20% of the City Manager’s time is billed to Silicon Valley Power, and an additional 20% is billed to the Stadium Authority,” Peterson added.
The board approved Santana’s salary increase in November 2020, but made it effective on December 26, 2021. This bumped his base salary to $468,674.97. Santana’s contract, which she signed when she was hired from the City of Sunnyvale, states that she is entitled to all cost-of-living adjustments awarded to Bargaining Unit 9, whose members include unclassified managers.
The City Auditor and City Attorney have the same arrangement, although both positions are currently vacant.
At the December 14 meeting, when approving pay raises for city employees, three new council members lamented that they were also required to sign off on Santana’s raise as part of a administrative process. They then called for a closed session in the future to see if the contract can be renegotiated.
With the city still reeling from pandemic-related budget cuts, renegotiation can be a way “to stop the bleeding of taxpayers’ money,” Councilman Anthony Becker said at the time.
“A review of executive staff compensation is just one of many things we need to help restore funds for essential city services and focus on the issues that really affect Santa Clarans.” , he told this news agency this week.
The city manager’s salary has been a point of contention since she was hired in 2017.
At the time, then-Councillor Dominic Caserta said his ‘no’ vote on his contract was one of the ‘proudest votes’ he had ever taken. More than four years later, Councilman Kevin Park and Becker both said they are still hearing complaints.
“That was a damning point from the audience. Whenever I talk to the public about money and salaries, the city manager’s salary always comes up,” Park said.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who voted to hire Santana and has been the only council member remaining since 2017, did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2020, Santana’s total compensation — which includes benefits — was $765,152, according to the California State Comptroller’s Office.
She was the second highest-paid city manager in the state behind Fontana City Manager, whose total compensation was $942,745 in 2020. Fontana’s population is nearly 100,000 larger than the approximately 135,000 residents of Santa Clara.
Santana’s total compensation also exceeded that of her peers in the Bay Area’s biggest cities. The San Jose city manager earned $477,728 in 2020 and $398,668.24 in San Francisco.
“Our city manager works really hard and she’s really smart,” Vice Mayor Suds Jain said. “She’s definitely worth a good salary, and she’s very capable, but I just think it’s embarrassing for the city of Santa Clara to have such a high salary.”
Santana’s base salary when hired was $372,886, and among the benefits she also received were a monthly housing allowance of $3,750 and a monthly car allowance of $550. She has previously defended her hefty pay, citing her many years of experience.
Prior to coming to Santa Clara, she served 3½ years as City Manager of Sunnyvale and three years as City Administrator of Oakland. While working for Oakland, she often clashed with politicians and labor unions.
Last year, she received an 11.2% merit increase of $45,171, which brought her base salary to $448,491. His monthly housing allowance was cut, however, which Gillmor said at the time negated much of that increase. Only three of the current seven board members were on the board then – Gillmor, Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy.
Chahal was the only one to vote against the merit increase, explaining that Santana’s salary was already too generous. Given the city’s budget, he now says it is council’s “moral authority and fiduciary duty” to review the contract.
A date has yet to be announced for closed-door negotiations, but Peterson said if the board ultimately decides to cut Santana’s compensation, she would have to accept it, as outlined in her contract.