More than a year after three Santa Clara City Councilmembers had a heated verbal altercation during a closed door meeting, city leaders will consider publicly sharing more details about the investigation into the incident.
The council supported a request submitted Tuesday night by Councilmember Anthony Becker to discuss at a future meeting whether it would release the full investigation report. The report could reveal more information about the alleged war of words between Becker, Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe, that took place on Aug. 30, 2022. This report has not been made public.
“I would like to have this on a future agenda because I think we all deserve transparency,” Becker said during his brief comments at Tuesday’s meeting.
While the other six councilmembers voted to support the motion, Becker “abstained.” Gillmor laughed after the vote as she said to Becker, “If you abstain, you shouldn’t have been talking about it. That’s kind of odd.”
Becker and Gillmor have been at odds over a host of issues, including the handling of the San Francisco 49ers and its management of Levi’s Stadium. Becker was heavily supported by the team in his election campaigns, including his unsuccessful run against Gillmor for the mayor’s seat in 2022.
Becker was publicly accused by Gillmor and Watanabe last year of making hostile and threatening comments to them during the August meeting, including cursing at them and flipping them off. Gillmor and Watanabe told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time they left the meeting after tensions flared between them and Becker, who had accused them of leaking information about the city’s settlement with the San Francisco 49ers.
An investigation of the allegations by the Van Dermyden Makus law firm, hired by the city, cleared Becker of nearly every allegation, according to a Dec. 9 2022, summary of the findings. The investigator, attorney Anjuli Fiedler, didn’t find evidence to support that he made hostile, bullying or threatening remarks, nor that he raised his middle finger.
Instead, evidence was found only to support that he said “eff off” to Watanabe, which Fiedler said was “unprofessional” but was “mitigated” by the fact he said it in a low tone and that it was in response to profanity Watanabe directed at him.
Although the summary already cleared Becker, his request Tuesday asked the council to consider discussing the release of the full report from Van Dermyden Makus, upon which the summary was based.
Vice Mayor Kevin Park on Tuesday afternoon said he feels the accusations against Becker were used to portray him negatively during the 2022 election campaigns.
“If people are using the accusations in a detrimental way, then I think having further discussions about the findings may not be a bad thing,” Park told San José Spotlight. “I think transparency is a good thing.
Becker declined to comment for this story. In December 2022, after the summary was made public, he told San José Spotlight he was “glad that the truth has prevailed.”
Becker has since been charged by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office over allegations he leaked a confidential civil grand jury report to the San Francisco 49ers organization and lied about his actions. Becker has pleaded not guilty and a trial is pending.
Ahead of the meeting Tuesday, Gillmor said she had “no idea” why Becker wanted to discuss releasing the full report when he had already been cleared of the accusations she made against him.
“I do not even begin to imagine what goes on and how he thinks so no I can’t answer that,” Gillmor told San Jose Spotlight.
At the meeting, Gillmor said releasing the report could set a new precedent, and asked city staff to bring back information about that potential.
“I want to know how this affects investigations that have happened in the past and that will happen in the future,” Gillmor said. “This was a very pivotal meeting so I look forward to discussing it.”
The council only discussed Becker’s request for about five minutes.
“There was supposed to be no discussion of this,” Councilmember Suds Jain said during the meeting. “The only thing I’m going to say is that Councilmember Becker has been maligned by a number of people.”
Councilmember Karen Hardy, who was in the closed session meeting in 2022 where the alleged altercation happened, said Tuesday ahead of the meeting she has reviewed the full investigative report. She told San José Spotlight the report makes it “very clear what happened and what didn’t.”
Hardy lamented the behavior of public officials in Santa Clara.
“I love it here, I’ve lived here 38 years. But sometimes I worry we behave like a small town instead of a good-sized city. It’s often, who did what to whose grandfather, and you can carry a grudge for so long,” Hardy said. “There is a lot of gossip.”