The San Mateo County Harbor District is investigating a complaint submitted by one of its commissioners who says another board member sent her inappropriate photos in 2014.
District Manager Steve McGrath confirmed the special district’s counsel is overseeing the investigation and would not comment on the matter further.
Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who submitted the complaint in October, said she was told the district’s counsel outsourced the investigation to an attorney at another law firm. Brennan said she does not believe the investigation will be neutral or transparent.
The matter stems from contact Tom Mattusch, now president of the Board of Commissioners, had with her before and after his election to the special district’s governance. Brennan said she received an email containing sexually explicit photos of nude women in June 2014. She also alleges he suggested they take a vacation together.
Mattusch denies the harassment allegation and would not comment further citing the ongoing inquiry into Brennan’s complaint.
Brennan said the recent national attention to widespread allegations of sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement inspired her to come forward.
It was not clear when the investigation would be completed, how much it is costing the district or whether a final report would be made public. Both Brennan and Mattusch confirmed they and others are being questioned as part of the inquiry.
Brennan said the district should outline a clear policy for investigating complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation. She noted state lawmakers are also working on developing a process at the Capitol and suggested more people should be involved in vetting who is chosen to investigate complaints at the Harbor District. She said the California Special Districts Association should establish better guidance on how agencies handle these types of situations.
In general, Brennan believes further scrutiny and buy-in as to how such complaints are handled should be discussed in a more public forum.
“I don’t think that the current investigation is being handled appropriately. It’s not an independent investigation, it’s not neutral, it’s not unbiased, it lacks transparency,” Brennan said.
Brennan suggested the Harbor District’s attorney has a conflict of interest in the matter, particularly as one of his primary jobs is to protect the agency against lawsuits. She said she was informed that the outside attorney will be presenting their report to the district’s counsel who may amend it and decide whether to share it publicly. She also noted there has been no communication to the board and believes the topic should have been placed on the board’s agenda for discussion.
If the investigation is not handled in a way that she feels is proper, Brennan said filing a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing is a possibility. The state agency typically reviews complaints before deciding whether it believes a person has grounds to sue.
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