Robes, candles and chants: South Bay official in hot water over religious ceremony
Milpitas City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    On a Sunday evening late last month a Milpitas employee working at City Hall saw something very unusual and eerie: several people wearing dark robes, walking through the building while chanting, burning candles and possibly sage.

    To the worker’s surprise, one of the people participating in what appeared to be a religious after-hours ceremony was the city’s new mayor — Carmen Montano.

    Now Montano is the subject of a internal complaint after the employee reported what they saw.

    The incident, confirmed to San José Spotlight by a source familiar with the situation, involved Montano allegedly inviting multiple people who were not city officials into the building for the spiritual ceremony. They wore robes and burned candles while chanting.

    The situation raises questions about the ethics of an elected official using a taxpayer-funded building after hours for a personal religious ritual.

    San José Spotlight is granting anonymity to the person familiar with the situation for fear of retribution.

    Montano acknowledged gathering a group to pray and bless city hall after hours, but said they didn’t wear robes or burn sage.

    “That’s a lie. I don’t know why people are distorting things,” Montano said. “I’m a woman of faith. I believe in the power of prayer, so I had my spiritual adviser come and pray. It’s just blessings for me and for city hall, that’s all. It’s nothing scary.”

    Councilmember Hon Lien confirmed seeing Montano at city hall on Sunday Jan. 29, around 3 p.m. Lien said she was swinging by city hall to pick up a binder with information about the week’s upcoming council meeting. On her way out, she saw Montano.

    “And (Montano) said she was there waiting for someone to bless the office,” Lien told San José Spotlight. Lien said she left after a brief conversation with the mayor, and did not witness the ceremony.

    It’s unclear if any private religious ceremonies have been held in Milpitas City Hall before, or if it violates any city policies.

    City Attorney Michael Mutalipassi declined to comment on Montano’s ceremony, but told San José Spotlight the city has two general duties with regard to religious expression on city property.

    “The city has both an obligation to allow the free exercise of religion, and to refrain from establishing a state religion under the constitution,” Mutalipassi said.

    It is unclear what, if anything, came of the complaint filed by the employee about the weekend gathering. City Manager Steve McHarris also declined to comment.

    Montano said part of the reason she held the ceremony late on a Sunday is to avoid offending people with different beliefs who might be in the building during regular business hours.

    Montano, who was elected in the November general election with support from former Mayor Rich Tran, believes there is nothing wrong with what she did.

    “My spiritual advisor came to pray with me and for me, and for the citizens of Milpitas,” Montano said, adding that her spiritual adviser’s prayer team of two were also with her during the act. “Just praying. It was basically a prayer.”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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