Santa Clara Valley Water District leaders are considering formally reprimanding a board director for taking confidential documents from a district office without permission.
The Water Board Ethics and Conduct Committee’s three members voted Feb. 5 to recommend the full water board censure Director Rebecca Eisenberg for taking roughly 2,000 pages of documents related to an investigation into her behavior on Jan. 29.
Water Board Chair Nai Hsueh asked the committee to consider the censure because of Eisenberg’s “mishandling of confidential information… and the violation of the employees’ legitimate right to privacy and the resulting environment of fear of retaliation by her alleged misconduct.”
Following the committee vote, Hsueh placed an item on the full water board’s Feb. 13 meeting agenda asking directors to consider setting a hearing within 30 days on whether to censure Eisenberg. Hsueh’s memo and the committee’s vote were based on details of the incident laid out in a Feb. 2 memo from Valley Water CEO Rick Callender.
In the 12-page memo and report, Callender outlined Eisenberg’s actions and suggested the full water board “take appropriate action” including potential “admonition, sanction, or censure.”
Callender also said he asked for the San Jose Police Department and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the incident, and noted that if a water district employee had engaged in this alleged behavior, they would be placed on administrative leave and be subjected to discipline, including potential dismissal.
Callender said he believes the documents include “names of witnesses, their full and unredacted statements, and other personal information which will cause a severe chilling effect on any potential witnesses to illegal, discriminatory or harassing behavior that may occur at Valley Water.”
Eisenberg was put under investigation in February 2023 after workplace complaints were filed, accusing her of discriminating against men and belittling Valley Water officials.
Eisenberg said previously the investigation into her is a retaliatory act after she accused district officials of sexism and raised alarms about how women are treated at the water agency. She also told San José Spotlight the investigation is unprecedented in its length and because it has included two different attorneys. Eisenberg also said the district has refused to disclose to her how much it has cost.
While Valley Water previously declined to provide San José Spotlight a cost estimate for the ongoing investigation, a district spokesperson said Thursday the investigation concluded on Dec. 22, and cost the district a total of $587,497.
Board directors, including Eisenberg, were allowed to view the documents at the district office, but were told to not take photos or make any copies of the sensitive materials, and that the documents could not leave the room.
In an interview with San José Spotlight last week, Eisenberg refused to say whether or not she took the documents, though she acknowledged she was told to not take them. But in an email chain defending her actions on Monday, Eisenberg wrote to the board and that she took them and informed a district employee she was taking them.
“I think that everyone knows that these documents were not confidential to me and I was entitled to every page. Given that I told (Clerk of the Board Michele King) I was taking them and I left through the front door, there was no theft or secrecy,” Eiseneberg wrote. “Given that I took them in plain sight and made no secret about it, and given that not once did anyone ask for them back, it’s pretty bizarre to assume that I was doing anything verboten.”
Eisenberg’s email was in response to a letter of concern to the board from the Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the NAACP San Jose/Silicon Valley.
Moore called on the board to take “decisive actions” and ensure this incident is handled in the public eye.
“This issue warrants immediate censure for Director Eisenberg, of District 7, and a thorough investigation by appropriate authorities,” Moore wrote. “Director Eisenberg’s reactions to inquiries — especially her provocative statement, ‘What if I did? What is wrong about that?’ — suggest at minimum a concerning disregard for organizational protocols and at maximum a severe ethical lapse.”
Eisenberg told San José Spotlight Thursday that it is “extremely unethical of them to falsely accuse me of a crime,” and said that a police officer was sent to her home at night, traumatizing her family.
“This is what I am talking about when I talk about the corruption and bullying of Valley Water. They even went as far as to lie to the police. How can they claim that I stole something when that thing belongs to me, I told them I was taking it, and when they never reached out to me at all to return it, I had no reason to believe they wanted it back?” Eisenberg said. “Wouldn’t a sane person just call me and ask me for it back before calling the police?”
Callender’s memo to the board includes testimonials and statements from water district employees. A security analyst who interviewed King noted that King said Chair Hsueh was “allowed to take the report off campus, but no other directors were allowed to remove it from the Clerk of the Board area.”
The memo also includes an incident timeline and an illustrated floor plan that shows where Eisenberg reviewed the documents and where she exited the district building with the documents.
“Director Eisenberg exits interior headquarters’ glass double doors coming from the Clerk of the Board area with an excessively large amount of paper which she needs both arms to secure,” the report reads.
The memo also includes two screenshot images from video surveillance footage showing Eisenberg leaving the district with documents in hand and apparently loading them into her car and leaving.