Santa Clara Councilmember Patricia Mahan resigns due to medical issues
Santa Clara City Council members meeting Tuesday, June 26. Photo credit: Janice Bitters

Santa Clara Councilmember Patricia Mahan has resigned from her elected position, effective Feb. 1, due to “serious medical issues,” according to Santa Clara officials.

Mahan submitted her resignation Wednesday, and the Santa Clara City Council is expected to declare her seat as the city’s District 5 representative vacant on Feb. 11. Mahan has battled cancer on and off over the years, and stepped down from her post in late 2017 to fight the disease for a third time. She told colleagues and the public at the time that she had a tumor in her spine.

This time, Mahan is not battling cancer, but complications related to the treatments she’s endured over the years, according to a resignation and retirement letter sent to Aracely Azevedo, director of Human Resources for Santa Clara on Wednesday.

“Please accept this email as my resignation and retirement from the Santa Clara City Council due to ver (sic) serious medical issues,” Mahan wrote. “Although I am cancer free, the treatment has caused serious liver damage which will (require) some significant surgeries or the coming weeks and months. Please accept my resignation and retirement effective February 1, 2020.”

The letter appears to be a formal resignation letter, which is typically a public document. But such letters generally go to fellow councilmembers or staff members, while Mahan’s went to the Human Resources department. She told San Jose Spotlight Friday morning that she was shocked to hear about a city press release citing her health issues as the reason for her resignation and felt it was a violation of her privacy and of state and federal health privacy laws.

“They are free to release the fact that I’m retiring or resigning … the problem is that letter contained private health info which they are not free to release no matter what,” she said. “In fact, they are required by state law to keep that info confidential,” Mahan said, adding that she’d submitted the letter to begin the process of retirement and to receive her pension, but had intended on announcing her own retirement at the upcoming council meeting.

City Attorney Brian Doyle told San José Spotlight he was surprised to hear Mahan was caught off guard by the press release.

“When a councilmember resigns, that is a public act of a public official, so we had to report it to the council,” he said. “Eventually whatever the communication is that says ‘I am hereby resigning’ — that is communicated to council so they can do their duty under the charter to declare the seat vacant.”

Doyle said after city officials learned Mahan was upset about the press release, the councilmember and City Manager Deanna Santana spoke on the phone. Doyle said he advised Santana that the resignation letter is a public document, but that Mahan could rescind her letter and resubmit a new resignation letter that doesn’t include information about her health. Doyle said Mahan declined.

But Mahan on Friday said she doesn’t recall Santana offering that option during their heated exchanged Thursday and that she wouldn’t have been upset if the press release announced her retirement without mentioning her health. Mahan said she’s considering her legal options, especially since she believes this city’s disclosure could have amounted to a HIPAA violation.

“I haven’t told my 95-year-old mother … she reads the Mercury News every day,” Mahan said. “I have clients all over this county, and they are going to read it in the paper and they don’t all have the right to know.”

Mahan ultimately sent another retirement announcement to the city Friday morning, though by that time the City Council meeting packet had already been published with her initial email to the HR department.

“Patty Mahan is a longtime friend and I will miss her presence on the City Council but her health is more important,” Councilmember Karen Hardy said in a statement Thursday.

Mahan, who has been a consistent presence on the council, serving as mayor in the past and as vice mayor in 2019, has been absent from council meetings, or has called into the discussions remotely multiple times in recent months leading to the announcement. She was most recently elected in 2016, and her four-year term was scheduled to last until Nov. 1, 2020.

“On behalf of the City Council, thank you to Councilmember Mahan for her significant contributions and service to the Santa Clara community,” Mayor Lisa Gillmor said in a statement Thursday. “We respect her decision and are thinking of her and her family as they face a very challenging time ahead.”

Councilmember Raj Chahal told San José Spotlight that Mahan called him this week to inform him of her decision, though he hadn’t seen her official resignation letter. “I commend her long dedicated service for the community and city of Santa Clara,” he said. “I also thank her and her family for the same.”

Santa Clara’s city charter requires the council to declare the seat vacant. City lawmakers will formally discuss the vacancy and next steps on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the city code outlines the process from here: Councilmembers will have the opportunity to appoint someone to finish out Mahan’s elected term, but only if they can agree on the candidate by a four-fifths vote within 30 days of the vacancy being announced. That means they’ll have until March 12 to appoint someone to the seat.

If the council can’t agree on who should fill Mahan’s seat until November, an election will determine who will take the District 5 seat, according to the city code. Santa Clara currently has a special election scheduled for March 3 this year, though City Clerk Hosam Haggag said the deadline to add the councilmember’s seat to that ballot has passed. The next scheduled election is November, and the District 5 seat will go up for election at that time regardless of whether the council appoints an interim councilmember, Haggag said Thursday.

Mahan’s announcement marks the second elected official in Santa Clara to resign early in recent months.

Santa Clara’s Police Chief Mike Sellers in July announced he’d retire effective Sept. 1 — more than a year earlier than his term ended — to spend more time with his family.

Councilmembers in September couldn’t come to the required four-fifths consensus to appoint a new police chief for the remainder of Sellers’ term, just as the governing body couldn’t agree on who should fill former Councilmember Dominic Caserta’s position in 2018 after he stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations from former students.

Mahan said during the discussions about replacing Sellers and Caserta that she didn’t think elected positions should be appointed by councilmembers.

As a result of the stalemate, the chief of police position will be up for election twice this year: once during a special election in March and again in November. The police chief elected in March will hold the position until the election in November, while the person elected in November will hold the position for the full four-year term.

It’s unclear whether the remaining councilmembers will attempt to appoint someone to Mahan’s seat or leave the position open for a future election.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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