After Santa Clara County elected officials were found to have violated the state’s transparency laws, they simply revoted with minimum discussion to appoint a new county executive.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors revoted 4-1 to appoint County Counsel James Williams as the new county CEO during its closed session Monday, officials said Tuesday. Elected officials also revoted 4-1 to officiate Williams’ employment contract during the public meeting Tuesday—after meeting with community leaders about the controversial vote earlier this month.
Supervisor Cindy Chavez voted no both times, adding she wants to stay consistent with her vote.
“It’s really important that every opportunity we have to continue to be open and transparent, (because it) is critical to the health and vitality of our overall democracy,” Chavez said at the meeting.
The revote came after San José Spotlight’s exclusive reporting on the board violating the Brown Act, the state’s sunshine law requiring public access to government meetings. After publication, several residents sent letters to the board asking for a transparent process. Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen sent a letter last week demanding the board rectify its violations, or the DA would sue the board for breaking the law.
Supervisor Mike Wasserman maintained at this week’s meeting the board did not violate the Brown Act, adding the revote is an attempt to clear any misunderstanding about the appointment process.
“We take those notices and our Brown Act obligations seriously,” Wasserman said, referring to the letters sent by residents and Rosen. “These (revotes) cure and correct all alleged violations relating to the appointment and allow us to move forward with this leadership transition and the county’s important business.”
According to Rosen, the board failed to disclose to the public ahead of a closed session on Oct. 17 that it was considering appointing a new executive to replace CEO Jeff Smith, who’s retiring in June. The board broke the rules a second time when it failed to immediately report its vote to appoint Williams to the position at a public meeting on Oct. 18.
Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, who previously told San José Spotlight the board misspoke about the timing of Williams’ appointment, said she has full confidence in the board’s decision.
“I sincerely regret the comments that I made at the board meeting that added to the confusion on timing and process for Mr. Williams appointment,” she said at the meeting. “I am very gratified that the board of supervisors took action to put those concerns to rest and I do retain great confidence in Mr. Williams.”
Williams, the youngest executive in the county’s history, will earn $460,373 annually. He’ll be able accumulate up to 2,592 hours of vacation time, according to the agreement. The board also clarified Williams’ compensation package is in compliance with county policies.
Williams’ appointment has ruffled feathers throughout Silicon Valley. News about his appointment came days after Smith announced his retirement. A coalition of more than 30 organizations and leaders signed a letter demanding more transparency and public involvement in the process. At least one elected official, Assessor Larry Stone, objected to the secretive hiring process.
Several residents expressed disappointment at Tuesday’s meeting and urged more transparency in the future.
“With the ethics training that I did take and reviewing the Brown Act, we all need to take it seriously and work together to ensure that there is no hidden agendas that create situations like this,” said Sharon Luna, a San Martin planning committee member.
Other community members, including representatives from Silicon Valley De-Bug, called for the county to halt its plan for a new jail until all issues on the new executive’s appointment are resolved.
“Without getting into detail of who is the right person to fill Jeff Smith’s seat or arguing its process,” said Jose Valle, an organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug. “The county board cannot possibly make a sound decision concerning the construction of the new jail until there is a resolution concerning the county’s executive seat.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.