Newly unearthed records show a South Bay politician dogged by a recent scandal is the subject of numerous internal complaints for allegedly mistreating workers at a major water district.
Eleven internal complaints from Valley Water employees have been filed about board member Gary Kremen since 2018, according to public records obtained by San José Spotlight through a California Public Records Act request. Identifying information is redacted in the complaints.
Four complaints accuse Kremen of emailing information about his assessor campaign to employee work accounts, and two claim he used his power as a board member inappropriately.
Five of the complaints accuse Kremen of bullying and mistreating Valley Water workers. One employee said they witnessed him making threats to people, and another claims he contributes to a hostile work environment and “culture of fear.”
“Just wait for his bad behavior to be exposed during all of his next campaigns,” wrote one unnamed worker on Feb. 9. “Would people want to ever vote for a bully? I and a lot of employees will never vote for a bully.”
Kremen was unavailable for comment.
Valley Water spokesperson Matt Keller told San José Spotlight these complaints were forwarded to the board, which is convening a special Wednesday meeting to discuss related matters.
Several of the complaints were submitted to Valley Water leadership shortly after San José Spotlight exclusively reported that a former staffer on Kremen’s campaign for Santa Clara County assessor accused him of sharing partially nude photos in a campaign Dropbox. The former staffer said Kremen also threatened to ruin a local political club if it approved a foreign policy resolution he disagreed with. Kremen has denied all wrongdoing and claimed he’s the victim of a smear campaign.
Kremen dropped out of the race hours after the story broke, but said he would remain on the Valley Water board of directors, where he was first elected in 2014. To clear his name, he has asked the board to investigate whether any sexual harassment allegations have been filed by employees and said he will temporarily step down as chair to ensure an impartial investigation.
The board meets tomorrow to consider Kremen’s requests.
“Abuse of his role”
Four workers raised concerns about Kremen sending emails promoting his campaign for county assessor.
“His collection and use of (Valley Water) email and (Valley Water) internal information and systems is patently against the law and an abuse of his role as a (Valley Water) Board member,” said one employee in an email dated Dec. 7, 2021. “I am offended at this abuse and request that you request the (Valley Water) Board to give him a formal reprimand.”
It’s unclear whether Kremen violated any election laws by emailing campaign materials to Valley Water workers using his campaign account. Keller said campaign-related complaints were submitted to the district’s legal office, but no formal complaint was submitted.
“Internal procedures were followed,” Keller said. According to Valley Water policy, written complaints are sent to the CEO and legal counsel to determine if there is sufficient basis for any action. If not, the complaint is dropped.
Two employees filed complaints with Valley Water’s ethics and equal opportunity program. One worker claimed in 2019 Kremen changed a board meeting date so a person or group—unnamed in the the complaint—could attend. The other, filed in 2018, said Kremen allegedly asked union representatives to speak in favor of a state-run water project in exchange for the board having approved a contract.
Keller said neither of these employees decided to file a formal complaint. The unions named in the complaints did not respond to a request for comment.
Richard Santos, a Valley Water board member, told San José Spotlight Kremen comes from the private sector and has a different way of managing people.
“I think Gary does the best he can where he comes from,” Santos said. “But over here you have a chain of command and a process, so it can be frustrating. Over the years you learn how to handle it and work with everybody in a civil way at all times.”
Editor’s Note: Valley Water CEO Rick Callender is on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.