San Mateo County Harbor District criticized as 'dysfunctional,' county leaders demand changes

Stephanie Sierra Image
Saturday, May 9, 2020
San Mateo County Harbor District criticized as 'dysfunctional,' county leaders demand changes
A public Zoom meeting between elected officials went south when the topic of a sexual harassment claim came up - One commissioner says another sent her pornographic photos.

SAN MATEO COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a local elected official is stirring up some unwanted attention in San Mateo County and there's no plans it will stop.

It all revolves around the San Mateo County Harbor District, a publicly-elected commission responsible for operating two popular marinas along the Peninsula coastline.

For decades, the district and governing commission has been criticized for lacking everything from professional decorum to fiscal oversight.

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Accusations of poor behavior resurfaced after the district's latest public meeting held on Zoom April 15.

"This is dysfunctional," said Commissioner Sabrina Brennan yelling at her colleagues in the meeting. "Are you telling me he didn't send the photos?"

Allegations of poor governance have been a reoccurring problem.

In 2016, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors issued recommendations for the district to improve morale, and reputation, among other things.

Here is a link to video of the April 15 meeting. Time code 03:15:50 is where things start to go downhill.

It starts after Commissioner Brennan references accusations she made about her colleague Commissioner Tom Mattusch. In 2017, Brennan filed a sexual harassment claim against Mattusch alleging he sent her pornographic photos. An investigation done by an outside attorney concluded that Mattusch, before being elected, emailed over 40 people explicit photos, including Brennan. But, Mattusch denies the harassment allegations and the attorney concluded they were unfounded.

"I want to call to order a question," said Commissioner Virginia Chang Kiraly trying to speak during the meeting. "Quit lying, Sabrina."

"Are you suggesting he did not send pornographic images?" Brennan said.

The yelling continued as several board commissioners spoke over each other.

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This meeting highlights what's been criticized by the Civil Grand Jury as a 50 year history of problems surrounding the district - including running multi-million dollar deficits and allegedly wasting taxpayer money.

"I hold all of us here at the county accountable to some degree," said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, (D) - District 22. "It's a real embarrassment for San Mateo County... especially in these times of crisis, we need these boards to be working in a constructive and civil manner."

A 2014 Civil Grand Jury report titled: "What Is The Price Of Dysfunction?" accused the commission of being in 'disarray' and recommended the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors take action to address it.

Documents obtained by ABC7 show a year later in July 2015, a local government oversight authority, LAFCO also urged the San Mateo County Harbor District be dissolved.

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley recommended the district be given 18 months to demonstrate a commitment to good governance and improvement.

"They did make progress," Horsley said, adding the district appeared to be improving morale.

"Do you think that last meeting was improvement?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"The last meeting was the worst I've ever seen... the people's business can't get done," said Horsley. "It's the most disgraceful performance I've ever seen on part of an elected official."

"Why did it take five years for this to be addressed?" Sierra asked.

"That's a good point...maybe in some ways we were a little negligent," he said. "But, enough is enough, for me I've seen enough, this needs to be dealt with now."

ABC7 requested an interview with the current commission board president, Nancy Reyering. But, she refused to speak on the phone or on camera but did provide the following statement:

"The majority of the board has to work very hard to accomplish the pressing business objectives of the District. At a basic level we are going to ensure the meetings conform to the proper parliamentary procedure as outlined in our policies."

-Nancy Reyering, Harbor District Board President

All five commissioners are expected to complete both an ethics and harassment training every two years. According to the dates listed online, Brennan is due for harassment training.

ABC7 reached out to Commissioner Brennan who refused an on-camera interview, but did tell us she's disappointed the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors didn't take action after learning of the alleged harassment.

"I will continue bringing up my harassment at these meetings," she said. "I won't be silenced."

Brennan provided the following statement on her behalf:

"The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and the San Mateo Harbor Commission have not taken any disciplinary action against Harbor Commissioner Tom Mattusch for the following:"

  • 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 women 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."

ABC7 reached out to Tom Mattusch for further comment, but have yet to hear back.

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