Fired Santa Clara city attorney on 49ers: ‘Jed York wanted my head on a silver platter, and he got it’


Reprint from San Francisco Chronicle


Mayor Lisa Gillmor said Thursday she’s “very concerned” about Santa Clara’s future, and especially its legal fights with the 49ers, in the wake of the City Council’s decision to fire City Attorney Brian Doyle.

Doyle, a frequent 49ers critic, was dismissed without cause in a special closed council meeting Wednesday. Doyle, who had been defending the city in eight legal actions brought by the NFL team, worked his last day for Santa Clara on Thursday.

Asked in a brief phone interview why he had been fired, Doyle told The Chronicle that 49ers CEO “Jed York wanted my head on a silver platter, and he got it.”

Rahul Chandhok, 49ers spokesperson, responded: “We are disappointed but not surprised by Mr. Doyle’s alarming claims on his way out the door. Ultimately he wasted $6 million in taxpayer money in his failed litigation against voters’ rights. The 49ers were on the other side of that fight, and we are not surprised he harbors ill will.”

Because the council fired Doyle without cause, he was due a hefty severance package (he earned about $390,000 annually), according to his employment contract — nine months of pay, approximately $292,500, plus full benefits.

Doyle said he refused to accept it because he was required to sign a nondisclosure agreement to collect. “I won’t take hush money,” he said, insisting he wanted to be able to speak out on Santa Clara government issues.

Gillmor said in an interview with The Chronicle on Thursday that she expects the City Council majority to seek a settlement of the 49ers’ lawsuits involving the operation and finances of Levi’s Stadium.

“I think there will be an attempt to try to stop the litigation and make a deal,” Gillmor said. “The council majority will make a deal with Jed York and the 49ers. I expect that will come next, and that makes me very concerned.

“It’s going to put the city of Santa Clara in jeopardy, when the council members were elected to represent and defend the city. That’s not what I see happening, from a financial and ethical standpoint. Who do you represent?”

The City Council voted 5-2 to fire Doyle, with Vice Mayor Raj Chahal and council members Sudhansu “Suds” Jain, Kevin Park, Karen Hardy and Anthony Becker voting in favor. Gillmor and council member Kathy Watanabe voted against dismissing Doyle.

The council members who voted to dismiss Doyle declined to speak publicly about their reasons during the open portion of Wednesday’s meeting. They also refused comment to The Chronicle and did not respond to interview requests.

Those five officials often meet privately with 49ers executives, city records show. The meetings were structured to never include more than three council members; if a quorum of four were present, that would have triggered open meetings law requirements under the Brown Act.

Three of the council members (Jain, Park and Becker) were elected last year after York poured $2.9 million into an independent expenditure campaign to elect a more football-friendly city council.

Richard Konda of the nonprofit Asian Law Alliance said he believed the vote against Doyle was by those dissatisfied with his handling of a lawsuit Konda’s group filed to boost minority representation on the council by replacing an at-large electoral system with district elections.

The city fought the suit and lost at trial and on appeal. That cost the city about $5 million as a result, Doyle’s critics said.

“I can’t get into the minds of the council, but they were not happy with the way he managed that case,” Konda said. “We fought it out in court, he lost, and he wanted to appeal. The city had to pay quite a bit of money in attorneys’ fees.”

In April, Jain said at a public meeting that 49ers executives had told him they wanted Doyle “gone.” Gillmor said before Wednesday’s meeting she believed the 49ers sought Doyle’s firing to “avoid oversight of the stadium, and avoid any court decisions that will not be in their favor.”

Watanabe described Doyle’s firing as unseemly.

“They were gangbusters to get him out, with no consideration of the city’s future or who’s going to be the city attorney,” she said of those who voted to oust Doyle.

Watanabe said Doyle had been “very successful in court” defending the city in the 49ers’ legal actions. Now, she worries pro-49ers council members will try to settle the lawsuits on disadvantageous terms for the city.

Gillmor shares those concerns, based on her comments Thursday.

“It won’t be financially favorable for the city,” she said of any settlements. “If you’re looking out for the best interests of the 49ers, you’re doing that to the detriment of the city.

“The majority of this council is not serving the public, they’re serving other masters. We’re a wonderful city, and I’m starting to see it crumble with the lack of governance of the majority of this council.”

The most significant of the legal actions — a 49ers lawsuit challenging the city’s move to terminate the team’s contract to manage the stadium — is awaiting trial. The city recently prevailed in a pretrial effort to obtain 49ers’ financial documents about stadium operations.

Gillmor said the City Council is responsible for creating an interim plan to replace Doyle. She wasn’t sure about the details of that plan nearly 24 hours after his ouster.

“The loss of a city attorney is really going to stymie our operations for a while,” Gillmor said. “The lack of trust from the community, toward the council, is going to be a lot higher.”

Ron Kroichick is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer, and Lance Williams is a freelance writer. Email: [email protected] and [email protected] Twitter: @ronkroichick and @LanceWCIR