Santa Clara will finally have a new city manager, bringing an end to the search for a replacement that began when the previous one was fired a year ago amid controversy over her high salary.
The council on Tuesday voted 4-1 to hire Jovan D. Grogan for the position with a salary of $405,065.40. Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe were absent.
Grogan, who is currently the city manager in San Bruno and previously served as deputy city manager in Berkeley and Concord, was largely commended for his skill and prior experience.
Councilmember Suds Jain said the council had evaluated 34 applicants during their search and were impressed by Grogan’s qualifications, which include a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional studies and a master’s degree in regional planning from Cornell University.
“He comes to us very well-qualified,” Jain said.
Councilmember Raj Chahal agreed, saying that he feels Grogan will be able to help the city cope with its $27 million deficit.
“Our budget is one of the most important things, a top priority for this council as of now — how we fix our budget and how we come out of the deficit hole,” Chahal said. “His experience will definitely help us make this city a well-run city.”
Grogan will step into the position on May 1, allowing him at least 60 days to give San Bruno notice of his departure, according to Councilmember Karen Hardy.
“San Bruno’s loss is our gain,” Hardy said. “[Grogan] was willing to come because he wants a challenge, and we smiled and said, ‘we’re Santa Clara, of course we’re a challenge.’”
As the new city manager, that challenge will include helping the city rein in its deficit and overseeing its relationship with the San Francisco 49ers, whose management of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is a frequent point of controversy among the council. Gillmor and Watanabe have been outspoken critics of the team and its potential influence on the city’s politics, while the other councilmembers have denied that the team asserts any influence over their decisions.
The vote to appoint Grogan wasn’t unanimous – Councilmember Anthony Becker voted against the motion, echoing his reasons for voting against the appointment of new city attorney Glenn Googins in January. As with Googins, Becker didn’t take issue with Grogan’s skills or ability to do the job, but was critical of his high salary.
“I think Jovan is an incredible person — I think he’s got the intelligence, he’s got the smarts. He’s young, and that’s what I like. He’s got a lot of energy,” Becker said.
Even so, Becker said the council has been frequently criticized for offering such high salaries for positions like the city manager and city attorney, a precedent that was set by past administrations who gave “sky-high” salaries that are “unsustainable.”
“Yes, the former city manager was making $448,000, and this city manager will be making $405,000. Yes, it’s reduced,” Becker said. “But we’re the only city in the entire Bay Area with a deficit … we need to make drastic changes now.”
Grogan’s predecessor, Deanna Santana, was paid a salary of $448,492 and an additional $58,349 in lump-sum pay and other pay in 2021, according to the California State Controller’s office. She also received $236,268 in benefits, bringing her total compensation to $743,109 that year.
The council voted 4-2 to terminate Santana’s employment last February, citing a lack of confidence in her ability to do the job. Santana was fired several months after former city attorney Brian Doyle, who was fired under ambiguous circumstances that remain a point of contention among councilmembers in September 2021.
Councilmembers were tight-lipped at the time about the details of Santana’s firing. However, Gillmor, who voted against the decision, criticized the move at the time, saying it left city hall “gutted” and put residents “in jeopardy with no management,” as the city had not yet replaced Doyle or hired an interim city attorney to fill his role.
Santana’s firing came at a time of heightened scrutiny around her salary and role. Several weeks before the vote to terminate her, Jain, Becker, and Councilmember Kevin Park had meetings with members of the San Francisco 49ers’ front office to discuss topics like “Santana ethical concerns,” “Deanna’s salary” and “Deanna’s luxury home,” according to the councilmembers’ public calendars.
However, the councilmembers denied that the 49ers had any influence on their decision to terminate Santana’s employment.
Becker was the only councilmember to raise concerns about Grogan’s salary. But in spite of his criticisms, Becker said he thinks Grogan is an “excellent candidate and an excellent leader.”
“This is not personal at all,” Becker said. “I have full faith that Mr. Grogan will do what it takes to be our city manager. But when it comes to finances…I don’t feel right about it.”