Sewer agency won’t block Daily Post’s attempt to get records about $875,000 payout to former general manager

Daniel Child

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

The Redwood City-based sewer agency that fired its general manager and then gave him $875,000 says it won’t fight the Daily Post in its legal battle to get documents related to the firing.

Dan Child, the former general manager of Silicon Valley Clean Water, which serves Belmont, Redwood City, San Carlos and the West Bay Sanitary District, filed a lawsuit trying to keep his former employer from releasing documents the Post has requested through the California Public Records Act.

The Post has filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit to have the documents released. A judge will make the final decision.

On Tuesday, Silicon Valley Clean Water filed a notice with the court saying it will not fight the Post’s attempt to obtain the documents.

The Post has been trying to get the documents related to the lawsuit since late July, after the Post received an anonymous letter containing a portion of Child’s settlement agreement with the district that mentioned the $875,000 payout.

On July 25, the Post published a story about the payout. But the newspaper could not determine why he had gotten so much money. His annual pay when he was fired in 2018 was $384,320.

A payout to another employee

An attachment to the settlement agreement, which the Post was able to obtain through a California Public Records Act request, indicates that the sewer agency settled a claim against Child by another employee for an undisclosed amount.

The nature of the complaint and the employee’s name were redacted.

In fact, 13 of the 24 pages of the attachment were redacted by the agency either in whole or in part. Some of the pages were completely redacted, with a large black box covering all text on the page.

The Post then requested the redacted settlement agreement mentioned in Child’s agreement, his resignation letter and the board’s notice of termination.

The agency agreed to send those documents to the Post. But before it did, the agency told Child about the Post’s request.

Then, on Sept. 26, Child’s attorney, Stacy North, filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose to stop the agency from releasing the documents. Both the agency and Child agreed in November to transfer the lawsuit to San Mateo County, where Silicon Valley Clean Water is located. But it took until March for the lawsuit to be formally moved. The next step in the case is for a judge to review briefs filed by all of the parties and decide if the documents should be released to the Post. A ruling could come as early as June 23.

A ‘reverse CPRA’

Child’s lawsuit is known as a “reverse CPRA,” the acronym referring to the California Public Records Act, which allows the public to obtain government documents.

Child’s lawsuit claims that the records that the Post is requesting “contain details of the insubstantial, unfounded and refuted complaint and allegations against the plaintiff.”

Child also says that the agency releasing the documents “will directly and irreparably harm (Child’s) reputation and professional character.”
He also alleges that the release of the documents will set a “dangerous precedent for the privacy rights of public employees who are on the front lines of public discourse and particularly vulnerable to complaints … Making these complaints, the investigation of these complaints and the resolution of the complaints open to public scrutiny will interfere with the discretion of SVCW to investigate and discipline its employees. The public nature will also discourage complainants from coming forward with legitimate complaints.”

Since his termination, Child’s career has moved forward. He’s landed contracts with San Mateo and a sewer agency in Half Moon Bay. The contracts are for $1.4 million each.

In Half Moon Bay, Child is helping the agency look for a new general manager and is “cleaning up” the finances of the agency, according to a report by the Half Moon Bay Review. In San Mateo, Child’s scope of work involved reviewing the city’s billion-dollar plan to replace the city’s sewer system and build a new wastewater treatment plant.