UPDATE: Will Silicon Valley water official face discipline for abuse of power?
Incumbent Gary Kremen is running to retain his seat on the Valley Water board. File photo.

    The governing body of Santa Clara County’s largest water supplier will not decide whether to discipline one of its own members found to have abused his power until at least election day.

    An independent investigation determined Gary Kremen, a Valley Water board member up for reelection in November, violated several district policies when he bullied, verbally assaulted and threatened district workers.

    The investigation did not find credible allegations that Kremen had committed sexual harassment, though none of the formal complaints supporting the allegations against him alleged sexual harassment.

    “Given his conduct, Director Kremen should hold a press conference, apologize and ask all of his supporters to vote for his opponent because clearly he’s unfit to be a director,” board member Linda LeZotte told San José Spotlight.

    Tony Estremera, a board member who leads the ethics committee responsible for overseeing the investigation, said the committee will decide whether to recommend discipline for Kremen in time for the Nov. 8 board meeting, the same day voters will decide on reelecting the embattled director.

    “The most important thing that we wanted to do was we wanted to issue the report (today),” Estremera said.

    Kremen told San José Spotlight the “vast majority” of allegations against him were not sustained and thanked investigators for “completely clearing my name of any and all innuendo of sexual harassment.”

    Kremen did not comment on the investigation during the meeting.

    LeZotte said she’s skeptical the investigation will result in any action against Kremen.

    “It’s just not going to happen,” she told San José Spotlight.

    The findings follow nine months of controversy surrounding Kremen, starting when San José Spotlight in February revealed accusations by a former campaign employee that Kremen shared partially nude photos with the employee. Kremen ended his assessor campaign shortly after these allegations came to light.

    In March, San José Spotlight found numerous complaints about Kremen’s treatment of Valley Water employees and his use of district email servers to promote his failed assessor campaign, prompting Kremen to temporarily step down as board chair and request an investigation into his own conduct in a bid to clear his name.

    Threatening workers

    In the six verified allegations against Kremen, investigators found he threatened the jobs of employees when they disagreed with him and used foul and abusive language when speaking to them.

    In one instance, Kremen said he would “rip the employee’s subordinate to shreds during their next board appearance and tear up the employee, too,” the report said. The remaining allegations, which included further charges of inappropriate treatment of employees and abuse of power, were either found to be inconclusive or were not policy violations, the report said.

    In response to the sustained violations, Kremen apologized for his behavior.

    “As a fighter for the interests of taxpayers and water ratepayers, it is within my duties to not only question whether the mission, policies and procedures of the district are being fulfilled but to insist that the direction of the board be followed,” Kremen told San José Spotlight. “In a few instances, my defense of taxpayers, ratepayers and constituents was too ardent and I apologize. To that end, I appreciate any constructive criticism I can take from this report to be a better advocate for the people I serve.”

    LeZotte asked whether any of the sustained allegations against Kremen constituted the creation of a hostile work environment, a criminal offense.

    Carlos Orellana, Valley Water’s legal counsel, said the investigation focused on board policies, not legal violations, and that Kremen’s actions did not meet the legal criteria for creating a hostile work environment. LeZotte requested a memo from Orellana explaining his reasoning.

    Many of the witnesses interviewed during the investigation were hesitant to speak with investigators and insisted on remaining anonymous because they feared retaliation, the report said. At least one witness later asked investigators to delete the transcript of her interview.

    “That is extremely troubling that someone would fear a director and not feel comfortable to exercise their rights to not work in a hostile environment,” LeZotte said.

    Last week, Lezotte and director Barbara Keegan said Estremera and fellow ethics committee member John Varela, who were responsible for leading the investigation, had created a conflict of interest because they endorsed Kremen’s November reelection bid and donated to his failed assessor campaign.

    Kremen faces corporate attorney Rebecca Eisenberg in his race for reelection.

    Contact Brian Howey at [email protected] or @SteelandBallast on Twitter.

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