Many progressives who backed Jean Quan in the 2010 mayor’s race have wanted her to dump Deanna Santana ever since the city administrator presided over the police department’s harsh crackdown on Occupy demonstrators in October 2011. And in the two-plus years since, Santana has made several more missteps that have raised serious questions about her fitness for the job. Quan, nonetheless, has stood by Santana — perhaps out of fear of further angering moderates who seem to like the city administrator more than the mayor. But the revelation late last week that Santana has been actively seeking jobs in other cities shows that she does not deserve Quan’s loyalty and that it’s time for the mayor to demand her resignation.
Early on, it looked as if Santana might have been an inspired choice as the city’s top bureaucrat. She deservedly won plaudits for exposing the apparent illegal behavior of Councilmember Desley Brooks. It seemed clear that Brooks had repeatedly violated the city’s separation of powers law when she personally engineered the creation of a swanky teen center in her district. And Santana showed political courage in bringing Brooks’ actions to light. In fact, the Express named her Most Courageous City Official in July 2012 for how she handled the Brooks affair.
But that was before we realized Santana was not above engaging in unethical behavior herself. In September 2012, investigative journalist Ali Winston revealed in these pages that Santana had attempted to alter a damning report about the police department’s response to Occupy Oakland the year before. Internal emails, in fact, showed that Santana had sought to redact portions of the report that were highly critical of OPD.
Ultimately, the city released the report in its entirety, and it included a scathing portrayal of OPD’s actions. Thomas Frazier — a former top police official for several law enforcement agencies — prepared the report. Santana, in fact, had hired Frazier because she knew him from when she worked in San Jose. She then terminated his contract in Oakland after he issued his highly critical report. And then, in an obvious rebuke to Santana for what she had tried to do to Frazier’s report, US District Court Judge Thelton Henderson appointed Frazier to be the compliance director overseeing OPD, giving him the power to overrule Santana’s decisions. Frazier apparently did exactly that earlier this year when he reportedly rejected her initial choice for OPD’s interim police chief and instead made sure that Sean Whent — a captain in charge of internal affairs — got the job.
Just before the Frazier report scandal emerged, Santana had also been involved in another questionable situation involving OPD: She had accused independent court monitor Robert Warshaw of making inappropriate advances toward her. Henderson, however, apparently found no merit in her allegations because he kept Warshaw on the job.
In hindsight, Santana’s actions involving Occupy had raised red flags that should have caused more concern. She was in charge when Oakland police began firing tear gas canisters and beanbag rounds at protesters following the October 25, 2011 raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment. Quan was out of town at the time, and the tear gas kept raining down until the mayor got a call from her daughter urging her to call off police. By then, however, the damage was done: Video and photos of Oakland police firing on Occupy protesters had made headlines around the globe — as did the picture of severely injured Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, who was struck in the head by a police-fired beanbag round.
Moderates have subsequently praised Santana for her “gutsy” response to Occupy. But that response has been extremely costly. The city has already been forced to pay out more than $1.8 million in legal settlements to Occupy demonstrators because of police misconduct. And the tab will surely grow once the Olsen case is adjudicated. Moreover, Henderson’s decision to appoint a compliance director over OPD — and award him unprecedented powers — was hastened by the department’s gross mishandling of Occupy protests.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. But Santana’s missteps aren’t limited to Occupy. Winston and fellow investigative journalist Darwin BondGraham revealed last month that city officials under Santana’s command apparently knew that employees of Oakland’s primary surveillance contractor had perjured themselves when they swore under oath earlier this year that the company, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), had not been engaged in nuclear weapons work, when, in fact, it had.
And then there’s last week’s revelation by the Dallas Morning News that Santana had applied to be Dallas’ city manager and was one of five finalists for the job. The San Francisco Chronicle reported over the weekend that Santana also has “other offers to consider” should she not land the Dallas gig. “I’m looking at all my options and opportunities that will be best for myself and my family,” she said.
In other words, Santana has no real interest in staying in Oakland — which is a serious problem considering the importance of her job. As such, it’s time for Quan to fire Santana and hire a new city administrator who wants to be here. The mayor has a good candidate already in place — Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell. He’s a talented and smart professional who doesn’t possess any of Santana’s baggage. Plus, he’s been leading the city’s efforts to keep its sports teams in town.
Moreover, Quan has been down this road before. In 2011, it came to light that then-Police Chief Anthony Batts had applied to be San Jose’s top cop. But when he didn’t get the job, Quan stuck with him. It was a big mistake. Batts’ official calendar showed that his penchant for taking long weekends and not showing up for work worsened. And then he promptly quit just before Occupy erupted, leaving the city without warning.
Quan should never let that happen again.