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Santa Clara voters to decide fate of how police chief is elected

Santa Clara is the only city in California that still elects its police chief and next month, voters will decide whether or not to keep it that way.

Three city councilmembers who say the princess is outdated, brought forward Measure B.

If voters approve it on March 5, the city manager will instead appoint a police chief.

Councilman Raj Chahal said the top cop gets paid over half a million dollars a year in salary and benefits.

“If the city is shelling out that much money, we want somebody who can really professionally add value to the position he or she is holding,” said Chahal. “In the last six of the nine elections, there was only one candidate.”

Under the current rule, the elected chief has to live within the city limits.

Chahal argues it leaves a narrow list of candidates.

“We have more than 150 officers [in Santa Clara], I think less than 10 live in the city of Santa Clara,” said Chahal. “So basically we will be picking our next chief, if we have to have an election, from those 10 people. Out of those, only two have management experience.”

“The nationwide search is a fallacy. There are 11 municipal police agencies in Santa Clara County. Of those, nine have chiefs that were appointed from within,” said Santa Clara Chief of Police, Pat Nikolai.

He opposes the measure, and believes it should be someone who lives here.

“I joke my son’s car was parked right across the street and had its catalytic converter stolen,” said Nikolai. “So I know what’s going on in the city of Santa Clara and I know what affects the people. So when there’s an issue, I can address it directly.”

He’s retiring at the end of his term this year, so Measure B doesn’t affect him.

But Nikolai believes residents should continue to elect the chief because he doesn’t just answer to city hall, but also, to voters.

“I think it’s accountability and public safety and really, public safety is what my job is all about,” said the chief. 

On Measure B, a “no” vote keeps things the same, and a “yes” vote transfers the power of selecting the next police chief to the city manager.


Source: NBC Bay Area

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