Robinson: San Jose City Council asks the right questions in appointment process
The San Jose City Council interviewed five candidates to fill the open District 8 seat on Jan. 24, 2023. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Serving San Jose as a councilmember is more than an honor, it’s a job. Congratulations to Domingo Candelas for being appointed to District 8. But now his real work begins. Also, thanks to all the other applicants who went through the process. Their task is to now support their district by working with their new councilmember.

    In the final analysis, politics is a game and government is a service business. One has to be good at the game, but the real challenge comes in the service of constituents. It’s a tough job.

    In the interview process, the council showed tremendous thought in the questions posed to the applicants. Questions ranged from issues to process, constituent services, ethics, inclusion, diversity and business acumen. All were open-ended and allowed the candidates to respond accordingly.

    As a person who has hired many people over the years, the first attribute of an employee is integrity. Mayor Matt Mahan asked the difficult question of having to let down a friend to do the right thing. The ability to say no to a friend is imperative in government. A large segment of the population thinks money drives political decisions. It does not.

    Sen. Alan Cranston taught others how to say no, even to a friend… If he could not support a constituent’s position on an issue, he would say so. But he then tried to find an area of common interest where he could help. He never wavered from his own values, but he wanted to help.

    Same with constituent services and working for your district. Politics played no part in his devotion to helping individuals. A former political opponent could walk into his office at any time with a problem with Social Security, a national parks issue, immigration, passport, visa—any and all types of situations and the Cranston staff would help. In addition, district issues are city issues and vice versa. A councilmember must be an advocate for their district. Councilmembers David Cohen and Dev Davis led the council in asking about this important job requirement.

    Councilmembers Pam Foley and Omar Torres led on the issue of businesses. San Jose does not thrive without them. This is a critical area the city needs to improve. Many new businesses are caught in the expense and bureacracy of red tape. The city needs a new process that allows businesses to thrive.

    Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei wanted to know what the applicants thought were the top issues and how they would work to get viable solutions. Homelessness and housing remain the priority. But public safety and neighborhood services are also important. All of these issues are related and a comprehensive strategy needs to be created to solve them. Even if you come up with a workable solution, not all homelessness and crime will abate. But the council must try to reduce the current problems for the city to thrive.

    Councilmember Peter Ortiz asked about equity. Again, the issue of fairness comes to play in San Jose. With limited resources, San Jose must ensure those with the least among us get the help they need. Not always popular, but necessary to a thriving city.

    Finally, Councilmember Sergio Jimenez asked about an example of an individual who was a model public servant. There are many to choose. None are perfect. But who a person chooses gives us an idea of how they might govern.

    In short, the interview process was revealing. I do have one quibble. The questions need not be “secret” before the process. Few decisions in government are made on the spot limited to a three-minute answer. While experience, philosophies and values are important, thinking is also critical.

    Allowing time for an applicant to think is important. It’s the same problem with candidate debates. Again, decisions are made in a deliberative manner, with counsel from staff, data and a myriad of input from others. Expecting a cogent answer on the spot in a limited time rarely if ever happens in government.

    That said, the council is doing a great job of vetting. Our fervent hope is there will soon be a full, thoughtful council representing all districts of San Jose and working for the benefit of the city.

    Congratulations to Domingo Candelas and thank you in advance for your willingness to serve.

    San José Spotlight columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.” His columns appear every fourth Wednesday of the month.

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