Untimely Rotation of Officers

By Commissioners Ed Larenas & Sabrina Brennan

The good news, the Harbor District has exceptional administrative staff and Harbor Patrol. 

In 2019, the Harbor Commission has accomplished more than it has in the last decade due to the efforts of Board President Brennan and Vice President Larenas. They have worked hard to build constructive relationships with staff, the public, and all community stakeholders. Public support for the District and staff morale has never been higher. 

Now for the sad news, the Harbor Commission is a toxic workplace.

On September 19, 2019, Commissioners Reyering, Mattusch, and Kiraly held an unscheduled election for board officers to replace President Brennan and Vice President Larenas three months before their terms were complete.

The removal of Brennan and Larenas from the top officer positions was an act of retaliation against their efforts to update the District’s harassment policy and correct untrue statements contained in the District’s response to an open Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) investigation. Commissioner Larenas was under extreme pressure to keep silent. However, he acted with the utmost integrity and caution in bringing his concerns to the board and the public. Commissioner Brennan and Larenas were stripped of their roles as officers for the District because of their efforts to correct untrue information, contained in the district’s response to a DFEH complaint, that is easily discoverable.

The untimely rotation of officers is the board majority’s response to an open DFEH investigation into a retaliation complaint. 

  

Timeline 

In 2014, Tom Mattusch ran for a seat on the San Mateo County Harbor Commission. That year, several commercial fishermen asked Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan to help Mattusch with his campaign. 

In May 2014, Mattusch asked Brennan to join him on a month long pre-paid safari-hunting trip to Tanzania, Africa. Brennan said, “What does your wife think about you inviting me to camp in your tent?”  Mattusch said, “I’m not telling her.” Brennan, a married lesbian, was shocked that Mattusch invited her to camp and hunt in Africa. 

Mattusch was in Africa from Sept 15, 2014 through October 12, 2014. In the 2018 Topliff Investigation Report, Mattusch said he invited Brennan on the trip to take his wife’s pre-paid spot. Brennan declined the invitation and did not go on the trip.

A few weeks later, on June 12, 2014, Mattusch emailed Brennan sexually explicit photos with the subject line, “My last vacation photos”. 

Brennan confronted Mattusch about his inappropriate travel invitation and his sexually explicit email and asked for an apology. His response was, “you don't get my sense of humor.”  Mattusch refused to apologize. 

In 2015 and 2016, Mattusch made remarks about lesbian sex and engaged in inappropriate touching and hugging while he and Brennan were on official District business at California Special District Association conferences. 

In January 2017, Harbor Commission President Mattusch removed Brennan from the Oyster Point Marina Liaison Committee and replaced her with Commissioner Chang Kiraly. 

In August 2017, Mattusch acting in his official capacity as President of the Board of Harbor Commissioners removed Brennan from multiple standing committee assignments including the Finance Committee that she founded and the Oyster Point Liaison Group. Mattusch voted against allowing the board to hold “committees of the whole” thereby blocking Brennan from participating at all committee meetings and the Oyster Point Liaison Group. Mattusch said he was removing Brennan because “actions have consequences.” After the meeting Mattusch approached Brennan in the hallway and said, “You better watch out because more is coming your way.”

Link to meeting video, Mattusch said, “actions have consequences.” 

Mattusch, acting in his official capacity as President of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, repeatedly blocked Brennan from contributing agenda items at Regular Board Meetings.  

Mattusch blocked Brennan from being an officer of the board. In 2017, he voted against Brennan for every officer position on the board.

On Oct 24, 2017, Brennan made a harassment and retaliation complaint against Mattusch. The complaint was made during a meeting with former San Mateo County Harbor District General Manager Steve McGrath and Harbor Commissioner Ed Larenas.

On Nov 9, 2017, Mattusch adamantly denied sending Commissioner Brennan a pornographic email on NBC Bay Area evening news.

On Nov 10, 2017, Mattusch told Half Moon Bay Review editor Clay Lambert that he could not recall if he sent the email.

In late 2017, Mattusch told to the media and the Harbor District’s investigator that he sent Brennan the pornographic email “because she’s a lesbian.” 

On Dec 20, 2017, Brennan voiced concerns about the Harbor District's harassment, discrimination, and retaliation investigation process at a Harbor Commission meeting.

Jan 8, 2018, San Mateo Daily Journal interview:  

Brennan said, “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.” 

On Jan 17, 2018, at the Harbor Commission board meeting Mattusch verbally attacked Brennan and said that she “pathetically lies” about him.

  • Harbor Commissioner Board President Tom Mattusch said:

“Commissioner Brennan, when things don’t go her way she’s just going to make something up. And completely lie about things as she has done with the complaint against me. So just to put it out there, if she wants to pathetically lie consistently it’s out there Brennan, you got it. You lie consistently and this is how you get around with all your little complaints.”

Brennan’s 2018 email to the Board of Harbor Commissioners

From: Sabrina Brennan

Subject: SMC Harbor District Culture of Harassment & Retaliation - Jan 17, 2018

Date: January 17, 2018 at 5:01:42 PM PST

To: Tom Mattusch, Virginia Chang Kiraly, Robert Bernardo, Edmundo Larenas

Dear Harbor Commissioners,

At the December 20, 2017, Harbor Commission meeting I brought up concerns about the Harbor District's harassment, discrimination, and retaliation investigation process. 

  • Link to December 20, 2017 meeting video

The District's investigation process is not independent, it’s not neutral, and it’s not unbiased.  My concerns about the District’s improper investigation process are included in the January 8, 2018, San Mateo Daily Journal article by Samantha Weigel. Link below:  

San Mateo Daily Journal—County Harbor Commissioner alleges flawed investigation into her report of harassment

The Harbor District’s broken harassment, discrimination, and retaliation investigation process has contributed to a sustained pattern of predatory behavior.

In 2013, I made a sexual orientation harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation complaint against former General Manager Peter Grenell. Key testimony from a second victim was withheld from the investigation report (findings) produced by the District’s employment counsel Arlin Kachalia of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore (LCW) and investigator Amy Oppenheimer hired by LCW.  

Lisa Fernandez, past Harbor District administrative employee is the second survivor/victim. Currently, Ms. Fernandez is the office manager at the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club. Her sexual harassment complaint against Peter Grenell was supported by information included in an investigation report paid for by the Harbor District and by Grenell's birthday card artwork published online with the report. 

The botched investigation into my complaint against Mr. Grenell was never corrected despite the concerns I raised when I discovered that testimony Lisa Fernandez provided during an interview with investigator Amy Oppenheimer had been omitted from findings included in the final investigation report. I was very disheartened by the coverup and responded by requested a new independent and unbiased investigation. Sadly, my repeated requests were ignored by the Harbor District. 

Fast forward to my October 2017 complaint against Harbor Commission President Tom Mattusch. 

In 2014, Tom Mattusch invited me to go on an all expense paid safari-hunting trip to Tanzania, Africa.  A few weeks after the travel invitation Mr. Mattusch sent me an extremely pornographic email with the subject line “My last vacation photos.” The email included 9 demeaning images of women, including an image of a woman on all fours groveling in the sand at the beach and a photo of two women on a chaise lounge chair both in spread eagle positions, with sandy handprint on their naked bodies. 

I confronted Mr. Mattusch about his inappropriate travel invitation and his sexually explicit email. He said, “you don't get my sense of humor” and he refused to apologize.  

President Mattusch's unwelcome sexual advances and excruciating retaliatory behavior has negatively impacted my ability to do my work on the board. He removed me from multiple standing committee assignments and the Oyster Point Liaison Group. I’m currently not serving on any standing committees. President Mattusch recently also voted against allowing the board to hold “committees of the whole” thereby blocking me from participating at all committee meetings and the Oyster Point Liaison Group. 

President Mattusch has also repeatedly blocked me from contributing agenda items at Regular Board Meetings.  

President Mattusch blocked me from being an officer on the board. In 2017, he voted against me for every officer position on the board. 

President Mattusch said during the Aug 16, 2017 Harbor Commission meeting that he was removing me from the Finance Committee because “actions have consequences.” Link to meeting video

President Mattusch has made threats towards me in person and on the phone.  Telling me to “watch out” and saying, “more bad things are coming your way.”

The 2017/2018 Investigation Process:

The following email quotes are from Mary Topliff the investigation hired by Steven Miller, general counsel for the Harbor District: 

Dec 5, 2017: “Finally, you asked whether my unredacted fact-finding report will be provided to the Board. I have passed along your inquiry to the District and either Steve McGrath or Steven Miller will respond directly to you.” 

Dec 11, 2017: “The issue of the handling of my report is not up to me but I believe that Steven Miller will be getting back to you on that.” 

Here is an email quote from Steven Miller. To-date this is the only information I’ve been provided regarding how the investigation is being conducted.

Dec 8, 2017: “When the investigation is complete, we will advise the entire Commission as to how the final report will be distributed.  The decision will not be up to the investigator but will preliminarily be up to me…

I asked Mary Topliff if she was going to conduct interviews regarding the culture of harassment, retaliation, and discrimination at the Harbor District. Ms. Topliff said, “NO.”

Independent oversight is needed because the process is broken.  A panel that includes women should interview and select a law firm capable of conducting a truly independent investigation.

My complaints against Steve McGrath (Dec 2017) and Tom Mattusch (Oct 2017) are linked.  It’s not possible to talk about one complaint without also talking about the others. 

There is a lot more I could say about all of this but my time is limited.  

Sabrina Brennan

On Feb 14, 2018, The Harbor District's investigation into Mattusch's sexual misconduct confirmed that he emailed Commissioner Brennan eight pornographic photos.  

Mattusch told the investigator that he believed Brennan would think the sexually explicit photos were funny because she is a lesbian, he said he sent the photos to 41 other people.

The photos include pornographic images of women’s vaginas, vulva, breasts, anus, and buttocks. Each image included a title. One of the titles said, “Soft powdery sand” above an image of three naked women with sandy handprints on their vaginas and breasts. Another title said, “Azure blue water” above an image of two naked women reclining with legs open, fully exposing the vulva of one of the women. Lastly, in most demeaning image the title said, “Course tan sand” above an image of a woman on all fours with her anus and vagina exposed, the photo was shot from the rear.

It should be notes that investigator Mary Topliff did not contact the 41 alleged recipients of Mattusch's sexually explicit email. She only interviewed Brennan. See Page 6 of the 2018 Topliff Report.

On Feb 22, 2018, Mattusch admitted on CBS KPIX News that he emailed sexually explicit photos to Brennan.

On Feb 22, 2018, NBC Bay Area news reported that Mattusch said he thought Brennan would think sexually explicit photos were funny because she is a lesbian

At the April 18, 2018, Special Meeting, Mattusch verbally attacked Brennan. The attack caused Brennan to open the door during a closed session meeting. Brennan told the Board and staff that she felt unsafe in closed session without an attorney present and she requested that the Harbor District’s attorney attend the closed session meeting.

In 2018, Commissioner Brennan made a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) to meet statute of limitation requirements for a time period between Jan 2017 and Feb 2018. The complaint was focused on retaliation that occurred as a result of her repeated rejection of Mattusch’s sexually inappropriate behavior. Brennan has repeatedly said that workplace retaliation has been detrimental to her Harbor Commission work.

Brennan’s DFEH complaint stated that she was subjected to sexual harassment, sexual orientation harassment, and retaliation. Brennan’s complaint stated that Mattusch made remarks about lesbian sex and engaged in inappropriate touching and hugging while he and Brennan were on official District business at California Special District Association conferences. 

On April 10, 2019, Rebecca Green of Richards Watson Gershon (RWG), served as Special Counsel for the Harbor District, she emailed DFEH the District’s formal response to Brennan’s complaint. The board did not receive, consider or approve the District’s response to the DFEH complaint before RWG submitted it to the state agency.

On July 11, 2019, the Harbor District Governance and Policy Committee held a meeting. The following items were included on the agenda:

  • Item 2: California Legislature Policy on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Spectrum of Sexual Misconduct at Work by Kathleen Kelley

  • Item 3: Sexual Harassment Training

  • Item 5: SMC Harbor District Ethics and Values Policy revision recommendations 

In late July, 2019, Brennan and theHarbor District engaged in mediation with a DFEH mediator. The District provided DFEH with untrue information in advance of the mediation. 

On August 1, 2019, DFEH started an investigation into Brennan’s complaint. The first meeting occurred via phone. On Aug 1, the investigator read Brennan the Harbor District’s response to her complaint.

On Aug 1, 2019, Harbor District Special Counsel Rebecca Green of Richards, Watson & Gershon emailed the District’s formal response to Brennan’s DFEH complaint to Commissioners Nancy Reyering, Virginia Change Kiraly and Ed Larenas. This was the first time Commissioners were provided with the District’s April 10, 2019 response. A four-month delay since Rebecca Green submitted the District’s response to DFEH.

On Aug 5, 2019, Brennan sent an email to John Moren, Interim General Manager for the Harbor District. 

Brennan’s emaiL

From: "sabrina@dfm.com" <sabrina@dfm.com>

Subject: Re: untrue information

Date: August 5, 2019 at 12:23:34 PM PDT

To: John Moren <jmoren@smharbor.com>

Cc: "William (Bill) Parkin" <wparkin@wittwerparkin.com>, "sbrennan@smharbor.com" <sbrennan@smharbor.com>

Hello John,

Untrue information is prominently featured in the District’s response to my DFEH complaint and untrue information is included in the District’s Feb. 12, 2018 Investigation Report produced by Steven Miller and Mary L. Topliff. 

Untrue information highlighted in the District’s 2019 DFEH response is also on page 10 of the District’s 2018 Investigation Report. See attached photo of page 10 of the District’s 2018 Report, last paragraph. 
On Jan 17, 2018, I sent an email to Commissioners Ed Larenas, Virginia Change Kiraly, Robert Bernardo and Tom Mattusch that stated:

The District's investigation process is not independent, it’s not neutral, and it’s not unbiased.  My concerns about the District’s improper investigation process are included in the January 8, 2018, San Mateo Daily Journal article by Samantha Weigel. 

San Mateo Daily Journal—County Harbor Commissioner alleges flawed investigation into her report of harassment

The Harbor District’s broken harassment, discrimination, and retaliation investigation process has contributed to a sustained pattern of predatory behavior.

Independent oversight is needed because the process is broken.  A panel that includes women should interview and select a law firm capable of conducting a truly independent investigation.

Here’s an example of Tom Mattusch providing the Harbor District and the media untrue information: 

On Nov 9, 2017, Harbor Commission President Tom Mattusch strongly denied sending Commissioner Sabrina Brennan a pornographic email on NBC Bay Area evening television news.

On Jan 17, 2018, at the Harbor Commission board meeting Mattusch verbally attacked Brennan and said that she “pathetically lies” about him.

In Feb 2018, The Harbor District's Investigation into Mattusch's sexual misconduct and retaliation confirmed that he admitted emailing Sabrina Brennan eight pornographic photos.

In 2018, my concerns about the District’s biased investigation process and my significant concerns about the 2018 investigation report were ignored by the Board and never addressed by the District. I stated that the report included untrue information and withheld relevant information. I repeatedly called for a new investigation. My concerns were not taken seriously by the Board, District management and District counsel. No action was taken to address my concerns. 

In 2019, untrue information from Tom Mattusch was featured in the District's response to my DFEH complaint. 

Last week and yesterday, you said that you did not read the District’s written response to DFEH prior to submitting it to DFEH. You also said that the District’s response to DFEH was not provided to the Board prior to submitting it to DFEH. Based on this I do not believe the District is taking my DFEH complaint seriously.

I’m concerned that the inclusion of unsubstantiated and untrue information in the District’s DFEH response is additional harassment and retaliation. Please consider this a formal complaint.  

Sabrina Brennan 

2018 Mary Topliff Investgation Report - page 10

2018 Mary Topliff Investgation Report - page 10

 

On Aug 12, 2019, the Harbor District Governance and Policy Committee held a meeting. The following items were included on the agenda:

  • Item 2: Policy 6.2.5 Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation Prevention Policy. 

  • Item 4: 2018 Topliff Report

On August 21, 2019, Brennan’s sent an email to the Board of Harbor Commissioners. 

Brennan’s email to the Board: 

From: sabrina brennan <sabrina@dfm.com>

Subject: Fwd: untrue information - DFEH 201807-03053228

Date: August 21, 2019 at 1:48:04 PM PDT

To: Edmundo Larenas <ELarenas@smharbor.com>, Nancy Reyering <NReyering@smharbor.com>, Virginia Chang Kiraly <vchang-kiraly@smharbor.com>

Cc: John Moren <JMoren@smharbor.com>

Hello Board of Harbor Commissioners, 

Please read my emails below regarding concerns about the San Mateo County Harbor District providing untrue information to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.  

I’m very concerned that the District provided untrue information to a state agency to discredit me and unfairly influence an open DFEH investigation. Please explain why the District provided untrue information to a state agency?

On Aug 1, 2019, the DFEH investigator informed me that the District falsely accused me of violating the Brown Act. I also learned that the District falsely accused me of narrowly evading arrest by law enforcement at a public meeting.

Last week, I received a letter from DFEH that states the following:

“Respondent [Harbor District] asserts that you were not subjected to retaliation due to resisting sexual harassment. Respondent states that you were removed from the Oyster Point Marina Committee after it was found that you had sent letters to the editor of the San Mateo Daily creating a false statement about the land around the Oyster Point Marina. Respondent states that you were removed from the Finance Committee after an incident that occurred during the Oyster Point Marina meeting on August 2, 2017, where the meeting had to be canceled due to you disturbing a public meeting.” 

I did not provide a newspaper with untrue statements or letters. A meeting was held and it was adjourned. It was not “canceled.”  Under your leadership the Harbor District has repeatedly provided untrue information to DFEH in an effort to discredit me and unfairly influence an open DFEH investigation. 

Dec 20, 2017, Harbor Commission meeting video where I voiced significant concerns about the 2017/18 Harbor District investigation process.  

I’m very concerned that the Harbor District has not corrected untrue information and the District has not taken steps to prevent further harassment, retaliation and sexual orientation discrimination. Please consider this a formal complaint. 


Sabrina Brennan
Co-Founder, Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing 
President, San Mateo County Harbor Commission

SabrinaBrennan.com 
Twitter @SabrinaBrennan 
Facebook @VoteSabrina
Instagram @sabrinaRJbrennan 
LinkedIn

CEWS Website: SurfEquity.org
CEWS Twitter @SurfEquity 
CEWS Facebook @SurfEquity 
CEWS Instagram @SurfEquity

On Aug 21, 2019, the Harbor District Governance and Policy Committee held a meeting. The following items were included on the agenda:

  • Item 2: Anti-Harassment, Non-Discrimination, Anti-Retaliation Policy, review report from labor counsel 

  • Item 4: District Counsel Relationship with Harbor Commission Board, review draft policy.

On Sept 18, 2019, Commission Chang Kiraly made a motion during Agenda Item B.1 Commissioner Comments.  Kiraly asked for an agenda change and started to make a motion.  Brennan requested that Kiraly wait until after the Commissioner Comments agenda item was complete. Kiraly persisted. Kiraly made a motion to add election of new board President and Vice President to next month’s Regular Meeting agenda; the motion passed unanimously. 

Mattusch immediately made a motion to adjourn the Regular Meeting. It passed in a  3-2 vote. At 7:00 pm that same day a calendar update email arrived for a Special Meeting to be held the next day, on Sept 19, 2019, for an election of a new President and new Vice President.

On Sept 19, 2019, President Brennan was unable to attend a Special Meeting because she was having an emergency root canal.

Tom Mattusch voted to remove Brennan as board president three months before her one-year term was complete. The board rotation of officers is held in January each year per the Harbor District’s Ordinance Code.

Tom Mattusch, Virginia Chang Kiraly and Nancy Reyering voted to remove Brennan as board president because they were angry about her DFEH complaint and the pending DFEH investigation. Their behavior was an act of retaliation. They striped her of all board officer roles and they striped her of committee assignments.

Board voted 3-0 to elect Kiraly president and Reyering vice-president 

Sept 19, 2019 Special Meeting Agenda:

  • Item B.1: Election of Board President and Board Vice President

  • Item B.2: Appointment of Committees by the Board President

    • Brennan and Larenas were removed from Finance Committee and the General Manager Search Committee

On Sept 20, 2019, new board president Virginia Chang Kiraly told the Palo Alto Daily Post that Brennan was removed as board president because it was “awkward to have Brennan serving as president at the same time she had two pending [DFEH] claims against the district.”

Quote from Palo Alto Daily Post story:

Kiraly said it was also awkward to have Brennan serving as president at the same time she had two pending claims against the district.

Sept 25, 2019, Half Moon Bay Review story, Harbor Commission changes leadership

Sept 25, 2019: Brennan is following the DFEH complaint process in good faith, she’s never filed a lawsuit and she does not have attorney representation.

Oct 7, 2019, Brennan notified Harbor District’s board secretary Debbie Gehret that she was not available for a meeting on Oct 18. See yellow highlighted sections bellow. Brennan provided two alternative dates when she was available. Staff told President Kiraly about her availability however Kiraly decided to call a special meeting to interview GM candidates on a date when Brennan was unavailable.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 5.24.57 PM.png

Oct 16, 2019, Regular Board meeting agenda:

  • Item 9, Commissioners Reyering, Mattusch, and Kiraly voted to hire Richards Watson Gershon (RWG) as new general counsel without interviewing any of the law firms that provided proposals. RWG is the same firm that provided the Department Of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) untrue information in response to Commissioner Bennan’s DFEH complaint. On April 10, 2019, Rebecca Green of RWG provided to DFEH with untrue information while she was working for the Harbor District as Special Counsel.

  • Item 12, the board president Virginia Chang Kiraly rearranged the agenda and the majority adjourned the meeting before considering the revised Sexual Harassment Policy recommended by the Harbor District’s Governance and Policy Committee, co-chaired by Commissioners Larenas and Brennan. Link to staff report.

  • Item 13, the board majority voted to amend the Harbor District’s policy on Standing Committees. The policy was amended to prevent public members from serving on Harbor District committees. The amendment resulted in removing public member Bud Ratts from the Governance and Policy committee.

Oct 18, 2019, Special Meeting agenda:

President Kiraly alleged that Commissioner Larenas was unethical and high on drugs. She said to Larenas, “you’re unethical” and “you’re high on something at 9:00am.” As an example of alleged ethics violations Kiraly said, “let’s look at the DFEH claim.”

  • Item 2: Public Employment General Manager

    • Commissioners Reyering, Mattusch, and Kiraly selected a new General Manager and directed HR consultant CPS to offer a job to one of six candidates interviewed. Commissioners Larenas and Brennan were absent from the Special Meeting. Brennan was traveling in Costa Rica.

    • Letters from the public opposed to hiring a General Manager at the Oct 18, 2019 Special Meeting:

  • Item 1: Discussion and approval of changes to Board committees, including dissolution or formation of committees and appointments to committees.

    • The Harbor District’s Governance and Policy Committee was dissolved by Commissioners Reyering, Mattusch, and Kiraly in a 3-0-0 vote. Dissolution of the committee resulted in removing co-chairs Larenas and Brennan from their committee assignment.

    • President Kiraly removed Commissioners Brennan and Larenas from the Oyster Point Marina Liaison Committee.

    • Commissioners Larenas and Brennan were absent from the Special Meeting. Brennan was traveling in Costa Rica.


Stay tuned for further updates…