A month after firing Deanna Santana as its city manager, Santa Clara is ushering in a former employee to lead it while seeking a permanent replacement — at a pay rate just 5% less than the lofty salary that landed Santana in controversy.
The City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to appoint Rajeev Batra as the interim city manager through January. It’s a role Batra is familiar with, having served as the interim manager from April 2016 until his retirement in October 2017. He previously spent nearly 14 years as the city’s director of public works.
“We wanted to find someone that understood the city and could jump in and help us as we are looking for a permanent city manager,” Councilmember Karen Hardy said.
Batra’s hiring comes just weeks after the council finalized its severance agreement with Santana — whom it fired on Feb. 24, citing a “lack of confidence” in her ability to do her job.
Santana, who received a $20,000 pay increase in December, will continue raking in her more than $750,000 compensation package — which previously made her the second highest paid city manager in California — over the next 12 months, .
Santana often defended her high salary by pointing to her previous experience with the cities of San Jose, Oakland and Sunnyvale.
But for all the criticism Santana received, the same council majority that fired her agreed to pay Batra almost as much in hourly basis. Batra will make $214.06 an hour, or the equivalent of a $445,244.08 annual salary.
Gary Baum, the council’s attorney, noted that the city at least isn’t paying for $300,000 worth of medical and other benefits that make up a full compensation package, which is what raised Santana’s total pay well above $700,000. However, Batra can continue receiving his pension while also drawing a salary as long as he doesn’t work more than 960 hours in a fiscal year under terms of the state’s CalPERS program.
Santana’s compensation package also had included a $550 monthly car allowance and a $3,750 monthly housing allowance until 2020.
Councilmember Raj Chahal, who was a part of the two-person appointment committee along with Hardy, told this news organization that not having to pay Batra benefits wasn’t the only factor in his selection. Chahal has been outspoken about the size of Santana’s salary in the past and previously voted against giving her a merit raise.
“We wanted to make a decision fast because we didn’t want to keep the position open and he has already served in that position so it became a benefit once we came to know about it,” Chahal said.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe — who were allies of Santana and opposed her firing — voted against the appointment.
Watanabe said she had “serious reservations and concerns” about how the hiring process was conducted.
Gillmor could not be reached for comment, but during the meeting she emphasized that Batra was the only candidate interviewed for the position. She did not indicate whether she had any issues with him.
Batra’s hiring bookends Santana’s five-year tenure, which was marked with controversy about her high salary and public battles with the San Francisco 49ers over the management of Levi’s Stadium
On Tuesday, the council also voted 6-1, with Watanabe dissenting, to approve a six-month, $45,000 contract with executive recruiting firm Bob Murray & Associates to find a permanent city manager.
The firm is also conducting a search for a new city attorney, according to Baum. The council fired former city attorney Brian Doyle in September and has been operating without a city attorney or interim one since.
Doyle has filed a claim against the city citing wrongful termination, breach of contract and retaliatory discharge. Lawsuits can’t be filed against cities until claims are denied. Santana’s severance agreement was conditional on her not suing the city over her termination.
To fill the gap in legal services, the council also approved a contract of up to $300,000 with Walnut Creek-based law firm Lozano Smith, LLP.
The firm can bill the city anywhere from $195 to $300 an hour depending on the attorney or paralegal whose services are used. The contract will end when the city hires a new city attorney and allows for a three-month transition period.