Director Rebecca Eisenberg speaking at her dias
Valley Water Director Rebecca Eisenberg was censured and stripped of some responsibilities by the board on March 14, 2023. File photo.

Valley Water leaders have censured one of their colleagues and stripped her of some responsibilities for taking confidential documents from district offices and allegedly making discriminatory and harassing remarks against district officials and workers.

In a nearly five-hour special meeting Thursday, the water district board of directors voted 6-1 to censure Director Rebecca Eisenberg, with Eisenberg casting the only dissent.

“I apologize to all our staff members, to all our managers that endured this wrath for an entire year,” Director John Varela said during the meeting, referring to Eisenberg’s behavior.

The board also voted 5-2 to take other punitive actions against Eisenberg, including removing her from any roles and responsibilities in which she represents Valley Water and barring her from sitting on any board committees in an effort to prevent her from harassing district employees. Eisenberg must attend anti-discrimination and behavioral management training.

Eisenberg and Director Barbara Keegan voted against the punitive actions. Keegan supported the censure actions, but said she disagreed with removing Eisenberg from some of her other duties because it punishes the constituents Eisenberg represents, not just Eisenberg.

Eisenberg said during the meeting she would not defend herself in the time she had to speak, but instead focus on reconciliation and apologizing to people she hurt. She acknowledged making mistakes.

“I am here to tell you authentically I regret them. And I am telling you authentically that I pledge to continue to learn,” Eisenberg said.

The censure votes represent a formal reprimand by Eisenberg’s fellow board members for her actions on Jan. 29, when she removed from the district office about 2,000 pages of confidential documents related to an investigation into her behavior toward district workers and officials.

The board also censured her in light of the results of an investigation that found she more likely than not made harassing, discriminatory, abusive and degrading comments to colleagues, district officials including the CEO and lead attorney, and underlings over a series of months.

 Calls for resignation

Some members of the community, including multiple board members of the NAACP San Jose/Silicon Valley, spoke during the meeting and called for Eisenberg to resign, calling her actions racist and unacceptable.

“I am urging the board of directors to call for Director Eisenberg’s resignation,” Elizabeth Kamya, board secretary for the local NAACP, said. “I do believe you want to do the training, I do believe you want to do the work, but you’re not going to do it on the dime of hardworking workers, and the rest of these board of directors. You can do that on your own time.”

In approving the censure, the board adopted resolutions saying Eisenberg’s actions in removing the investigative documents amounted to serious misconduct, a mishandling of confidential information and that it violated district employees’ right to privacy, resulting “in an environment of fear of retaliation.”

In response to the findings about Eisenberg’s conduct toward others, Vice Chair Tony Estremera said restricting Eisenberg’s participation on board committees will prevent her from further opportunities to harass employees, though she will still participate in board meetings.

Estremera said her behavior has made it so workers and board members are unable to operate in a “constructive environment,” and that he wished Eisenberg would resign.

Walter Wilson, a co-founder of the Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium, told the board he was appalled that directors didn’t call out Eisenberg at the moments when she said hurtful things during past meetings.

“This lady has made some of the most racist, sexist statements I have ever heard,” Wilson said. “She needs to go. You have got to go. You do not represent the best of Silicon Valley.”

Eisenberg she feels her relationships with other board members has improved in her time on the board.

“I admit that I came across as rough around the edges, brash, strident. I am adapting my style from the private sector to the public sector. That is something I am working on and I am proud of my progress,” Eisenberg said.  “I take very seriously these allegations, I take very seriously the fact that I have offended others and that I have hurt the feelings of others. I take responsibility for these actions.”

Some people at the meeting defended Eisenberg’s actions, saying they know her to be polite, intelligent and patient.

“(Eisenberg) is known as someone who fights for social justice. The idea that any racism is involved here is truly ridiculous,” Palo Alto resident Mark Weiss told the board.

Not everyone was sold on Eisenberg’s contriteness, however.

San Jose resident Doug Peterson said Eisenberg is a disingenuous person, who posts online relentlessly in her own defense, accusing Valley Water and its CEO Rick Callender of being corrupt.

“She’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character. She comes in here and presents herself one way while the cameras are rolling,” Peterson told the board. “She can’t come into these board meetings and say one thing and then go online and say things that are completely different.”

Board Chair Nai Hsueh closed the meeting as some called from the audience for Eisenberg to be fired.

“We all have gone through a very difficult process and time, and we look forward to a more productive working relationship,” Hsueh said.

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