Santa Clara city officials Friday disputed a councilwoman’s assertion that they violated her medical privacy rights in disclosing reasons for her resignation.
But that has hardly ended the flap over the city’s announcement Thursday of Councilwoman Patricia Mahan’s pending resignation, as she disputed the version of events the city offered Friday and vowed to continue pressing the issue of what she said was a violation of federal and state medical privacy law.
“I’m going to take it as far as it goes,” Mahan said, “because nobody bothered to communicate with me, nobody apologized, nobody admitted what they did was wrong. They’re all trying to cover it up. This is having an adverse affect my recovery.”
It all started Thursday when the city announced in a news release that Mahan will resign her seat Feb. 1 due to “serious medical issues.” She told this news organization from a hospital bed that the news release blindsided her and that the city “had no right to release my private health information.”
That prompted the city to issue another news release Friday in which City Attorney Brian Doyle said he is “confident that no one in the City has violated HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) or any laws regarding confidentiality.”
Doyle went on to explain that when a council member resigns, “that is a public act of a public official so we had to report it to the council.”
“Eventually whatever the communication is that says, ‘I am hereby resigning’ — that is communicated to council so they can do their duty under the charter to declare the seat vacant,” Doyle continued. The council must then act within 30 days to either appoint a new member to the council seat, hold a special election or leave the seat vacant until the next regular election in November, he said.
Doyle said Mahan’s “official resignation” notice came in a Jan. 22 email which was transmitted to the City council as part of the online agenda packet for the Jan. 28, 2020 meeting. The city’s online agenda links to a one-paragraph email Mahan sent at 1:26 p.m. Wednesday to Aracely Azevedo in the city’s human resources department. He said “nothing in Councilmember Mahan’s official resignation statement mentions confidentiality.”
“Please accept this email as my resignation and retirement from the Santa Clara City Council due to ver (sic) serious medical issues,” Mahan’s email says, adding more details about her condition and upcoming treatments and concluding: “Please accept my resignation and retirement effective February 1, 2020.”
Mahan has publicly discussed her past battles with cancer, but said she has done so on her own terms. She quoted state law saying that any release of her medical information would require her signed consent, which she said she did not give the city this week.
Doyle said that on Jan. 23, City Manager Deanna Santana “offered Councilmember Mahan the opportunity to resubmit her letter and she declined.” He said that at 3:04 a.m. Friday, Mahan submitted an email to the city but the city has not said what it contained and a link to the email did not work.
Mahan said her Wednesday note to the city’s human resources department wasn’t intended as her official resignation letter and was sent only to start the process of drawing her CalPERS retirement.
“It was to HR only,” Mahan said. “In my email I felt there was some responsibility to explain. The city has an obligation to redact any private health information.”