The Tale of the Missing Harbor Servers

This is a first draft. For the final report click here.

Less than one month after being sworn-in commissioner Mattusch inquired about two handwritten checks listed in the Feb. 4 meeting packet. IT/HR director Marietta Harris explained that the checks totaling $19,075 were for new “routers” (firewalls).

I requested follow up information because the board had not approved the purchase. Marietta emailed two requisition forms on Feb. 10. Palo Alto Networks firewalls, software, and support subscriptions were split on the requisition forms to avoid the spending limit. Acting general manager Scott Grindy and Marietta's signatures were on both. 

I also noticed that the forms listed three servers however the words "server" were scribbled out and replaced with the handwritten word “firewall.” This piqued my curiosity so I asked why servers had originally been typed on the forms. I was told it was a typo and that we had previously purchased servers from the same vendor.

I requested the firewall invoice and Marietta emailed, “We paid from the quote because we were all in the office discussing what we needed and the quote and in order to get the discount we wanted to act fast.” It occurred to me that the staff might have asked the IT vendor to split the project on two quotes to avoid the required board authorization on purchases above $15,000.

Two weeks after commissioner Mattusch's question about the $19,075 payment Marietta surprised the board by announcing she was resigning at the Feb. 18, 2015 meeting.

Cause for Concern

On March 30, 2015, I phoned Scott Grindy and expressed concern about a meeting held while he was away. I had observed finance director Debra Galarza sharing a draft staff report with a vendor. I was concerned because the vendor had not yet submitted an estimate to the District and the draft included a $47,000 purchase request

I asked Scott if he thought tempting a service provider with an inflated budget number in advance of receiving an estimate was prudent. Scott said, “It’s not unusual.”

On May 11, 2015, I followed up with an email to district counsel, interim General Manager Glenn Lazof and commissioner Mattusch. My email said:

On Monday, March 23, 2015, Debra Galarza emailed me and requested a meeting at the 504 Avenue Alhambra building in El Granada. She needed access to the new office space so she could meet with the Well Connected Office (IT vendor) while they performed a site visit in advance of providing the District with an estimate. At the time Debra was acting as General Manager while Scott was away at the Port Captains Conference.
I emailed Randy Kinghorn (the District’s realtor) and asked him to open the building.  Randy, Steve Almes, Steve’s employee, Debra and I met at the District’s new headquarters. Steve and his employee checked phone jacks and server rooms, Randy and I looked at the public meeting room related to a new wall that would be installed by the building owner as part of the lease agreement.
Randy left and I waited in the conference room for Steve and Debra to finish. I was writing email on my cell phone when they joined me.  Steve and his employee discussed some of the IT possibilities, overall Steve said the building would not require much work because it was set up well from an IT perspective.
Debra handed Steve a draft staff report for the upcoming April 1st meeting and asked Steve if everything looked okay. I asked if I could take a look at the draft. I noticed that $47,000 was recommended for IT services related to moving the District’s headquarters from South San Francisco to El Granada.

Servergate

At the April 1, 2015, board meeting I opposed a motion by commissioner David to hire the Well Connected Office for IT related moving costs. A few days later I learned that the District was not in possession of servers purchased in 2012 from the Well Connected Office. I alerted counsel about the missing servers.

On April 5, 2015, Steve Almes owner of the Well Connected Office informed Scott Grindy that he no longer wished to work for the District.

By reading past agendas and board packets I was able to confirm that the Board approved spending up to $40,000 on IT equipment on May, 16, 2012. John Ullom confirmed via PRA request that the District paid the IT contractor $34,689.31 for servers (check #040875) on May 31, 2012.

On May 18, 2015, deputy secretary Debbie Nixon provided a formal response letter to a PRA requests I made in March and April. The letter stated, “Yes, the equipment was delivered to the District. We assume the equipment was installed.” This was odd because the servers had still not been located. At the time I wondered if they might have been recycled or stolen. I did not respond to Debbie’s email and I later learned the custom servers were never actually built or delivered.

The next day on May 19th, Glenn Lazof sent a memo to District staff that said, “Effective immediately I am directing all staff and contractors to cease any professional contact with Commissioner Brennan, other than at Public Meetings, or as explicitly approved by me or an authorized designee.” On the same day Lazof also sent a bizarre memo to the board accusing me of harassing him during a phone conversation. I believe Lazof’s untrue allegations were intended to tarnish my credibility. And his memo to staff was intended to ostracize me and interfere with my ability to do my job by treating me differently than the other commissioners.

Bernardo Shoots the Messenger

Commissioner Bernardo was incensed by the suggestion that our management staff had paid for equipment that was missing and possibly never delivered. He was the board Treasurer in 2012 and it was his job to review and approve bills in advance of payment.

On May 26, 2015, commissioner Bernardo said that I should be removed as board president because I made false allegations against our IT consultant. Bernardo also said, “There is no fraud, there is no theft, no criminality whatsoever.” And he went one step further to suggest that my concerns could have resulted in a lawsuit against the District.

Two Refunds

On August 8, 2015, the Harbor District received a long overdue $34,689.31 refund for servers that were paid for in 2012 but never delivered.

At the Sept. 2, 2015 Harbor District meeting Marcia Schnapp, a past finance director and current interim administrative manager confirmed that the District had received a refund for the firewalls ($19,075) less a 7% restocking fee. During the meeting I requested a copy of the refund check to verify the amount, hopefully I will receive it soon.

To-date the total refund for the firewalls and servers is $52,429.06.

The Sept. 2, 2015 staff report disclosed that IT vendor Steve Almes said that Marietta Harris told him to issue invoices for equipment he had not delivered. During the meeting Glenn Lazof said that staff had not been following the District’s purchasing policies and he detailed a number of accounting errors that were still being resolved. He said that multiple estimates should be requested for equipment and that consultants should be prohibited from purchasing equipment on behalf of the District except in an emergency.

Conclusion

Harbor District general manager Peter Grenell announced his retirement at the Sept. 4, 2014, board meeting. Grenell's last day was Dec. 31, 2014. He managed the district for 17 and a 1/2 years.

The District’s IT and human resources director Marietta Harris announced her resignation at the Feb. 18, 2015 board meeting.

I’m currently serving a four-year term as a Harbor Commissioner that ends in 2016. I resigned as board president at the May 26, 2015 board meeting. 

The District’s finance director Debra Galarza signed a six figure settlement agreement on Sept. 4, 2015, and resigned effective immediately. Galarza threatened but never actually filed a lawsuit against the Harbor District. She did however have a history of numerous complaints against the district that predate my time on the board. It's been alleged online that commissioner Jim Tucker told Galarza to file a tort claim against the district in 2014.  A contractor is currently filling in as finance director.

The District's deputy secretary Debbie Nixon's last day will be Sept. 25, 2015. A temporary employee has been trained to cover the position and will be filling in.

The District has a new IT vendor.