A call to censure Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor set off heated arguments and sent accusations flying among the City Council during the last meeting before election day.
Resident Lori Garmany filed a petition asking them to consider censuring the mayor, or invoking a formal reprimand for “the leaking of confidential closed session settlement information to the press” and for writing a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this year “asking him to help her campaign donor.”
Garmany said she filed the petition because she was dismayed by the “negativity and all the political crap” she has seen in Santa Clara politics.
“It sickens to me to see the lies and the turmoil within this council at times,” Garmany said.
The petition had Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe, as well as Councilmembers Anthony Becker and Kevin Park, trading accusations while talking over each other. Interim City Attorney Steve Ngo admonished the councilmembers to reign in their discussion and focus on whether to bring back the censure topic for a public hearing at a later date, which is in line with city policies for petitions.
The council ultimately voted 5-2 Tuesday to discuss the issue at a future meeting, but not before a tense discussion devolved into chaos. Gillmor and Watanabe voted no.
The censure request appeared to be driven in part by what Gillmor and Watanabe told the San Francisco Chronicle in August about a charged exchange during a closed council session where officials discussed a major settlement with the 49ers.
Gillmor claimed Becker cursed at her and Watanabe and made them feel unsafe, so Gillmor left the meeting and called the police.
“He was verbally abusive, he used foul language, he used an obscene gesture and he was physically threatening,” Gillmor said Tuesday during the meeting. “It was not privileged information from closed session, it was about behavior in the closed session.”
Gillmor also said she and Watanabe shared their version of the events with an investigator who is “conducting an official personnel investigation” into the incident. As she spoke, Park interrupted her.
“Excuse me, excuse me, I am speaking, stop,” Gillmor said as she banged her gavel. “Excuse me, Kevin.”
The airing out highlighted the bitter division between Gillmor, who has served 18 years total as a city councilmember and mayor, and much of the rest of the council including Becker, who is challenging her for the mayor’s seat in the coming election.
“You have weaponized a closed session,” Becker said to Gillmor.
He claimed he was verbally abused by Gillmor and Watanabe.
“You go to the media and you say what happened, when there are significant differences of what really happened,” he said. “This is a prime example of bullying.”
Gillmor also addressed the letter she wrote to Newsom, in which she advocated that developer, The Related Companies, a supporter of her reelection campaign, should not have to pay prevailing wages on a massive project in Santa Clara.
“I had full authority to do that,” Gillmor said, reiterating the letter was vetted by city staff. “You’re going to look at censuring me for something I have full authority to do?”
As she continued, Park again interrupted her, and she again responded by banging her gavel.
“Excuse me, Councilmember Park,” she said. “Please stop, have some respect, please.”
A short time later, Ngo, the city attorney, urged the council to stop trading barbs.
“I think it’s time that we move on,” Ngo said.