BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The former HR director of San Mateo County Community College District was paid $2.28 million to quietly resign, according to a document obtained by the Post.
And now the Post has learned that Eugene Whitlock provided information to the District Attorney that has led to an investigation of his former boss, longtime Chancellor Ron Galatolo, who stepped down last year.
Meanwhile, Whitlock is running in November for a seat on the college district’s five-member board.
The case began in November 2018 when Whitlock contacted the DA’s office. DA’s investigators interviewed him on April 17, 2019.
Nine days later, on April 26, 2019, Whitlock was fired.
Four months later, Galatolo stepped down after 20 years as chancellor.
And two weeks after that, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe confirmed that Galatolo was under investigation for harassment and mishandling construction contracts. The college district had been on a building boom for the past decade after passing three bond measures that raised a total of nearly $1 billion.
When Whitlock was fired, Galatolo was still in charge. But the district reached the $2.28 million separation agreement with him in April of this year — seven months after Galatolo was shown the door.
“Mr. Whitlock did report to us much of what got us going on the case,” Wagstaffe told the Post on Thursday (Sept. 10).
Wagstaffe said that his investigators are hoping to announce a decision about charges in the case by the end of November.
The circumstances surrounding Whitlock’s firing were a mystery until the Post filed a California Public Records Act request to obtain a separation agreement between him and the district. It was signed in May, a year after he was fired. The agreement reveals the $2.28 million payout, which had not previously been disclosed by the college district.
The agreement, signed by Whitlock, his wife Romina and Galatolo’s successor, Mike Claire, gives three reasons for the hefty payout:
• $336,028 was paid to Whitlock last year as severance;
• $971,986 is for an alleged physical injury;
• and $971,986 is for alleged “emotional distress, reputational harm and other intangible injuries.”
There is no further information in the agreement about Whitlock’s alleged injuries, but it does offer a hint as to why he was paid so much in severance.
About a year earlier, on April 26, 2019, the board sent Whitlock a letter saying it had decided to fire him “without cause,” and were doing so “as an olive branch, and an attempt to avoid a contentious dispute between us.” The letter was signed by then-board president Maurice Goodman, who still serves on the board and is up for re-election in November.
The letter also mentioned that Whitlock and the district would be entering mediation to resolve his “concerns” with the district. That process ended with the $2.28 million separation agreement a year later in May.
The settlement agreement keeps Whitlock from suing the college district. It said that Whitlock had complained to several agencies about the district:
• The San Mateo County District Attorney’s office;
• The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR);
• California Department of Fair Employment and Housing;
• The California State Personnel Board;
• And the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The state personnel board and OCR dismissed Whitlock’s claims. On the other hand, the fair employment and state personnel boards gave Whitlock “right to sue” letters, which allow him to pursue certain types of employment-law claims in Superior Court.
The agreement also says that Whitlock and his wife, who hadn’t been employed by the district, cannot seek any “relationship” with the district.
The district’s board was generous with Galatolo, too. When he stepped down, he was given a new contract that pays $479,208 a year to serve as chancellor emeritus, but he was not allowed to return to any of the district’s three campuses.
When questioned Wednesday by the Post, Whitlock wouldn’t say more than repeat a boiler-plate statement that the agreement says he is supposed to give when questioned about his departure.
Whitlock wants to join board
Still, Whitlock is running for one of three seats up for grabs on the college district’s board.
He pointed out that a court has ruled that a former school employee in Southern California with a similar separation agreement was allowed to run for that district’s board.
“Every American has a constitutionally protected right to run for office. And voters have a constitutionally protected right to vote for who they want to,” Whitlock said Wednesday.
Whitlock, a San Carlos resident, is running against Lisa Petrides of Half Moon Bay for the seat whose territory includes San Carlos and part of Menlo Park. Petrides declined to comment on Whitlock’s settlement agreement.
Whitlock, an attorney, also landed a new job after he was shown the door by the college district. He’s head of HR at UC-Berkeley.
Skyline College professor and AFT union vice president Katherine Harer said the union, which often knocked heads with Whitlock, was “stunned” by the $2.28 million agreement.
“We thought the district was happy with him,” Harer said, adding that the district’s unions were not pleased with Whitlock when he was head of HR for the district and his negotiating practices.
Meanwhile, John Pimentel, who is running for a seat on the college board, said that the district should increase its transparency surrounding items such as the Whitlock agreement and payout.
Lisa Hicks-Dumanske, who is running against Pimentel, found it interesting that Whitlock was running despite his separation agreement saying that he is not to have any sort of relationship with the district.
Trustees Maurice Goodman and Dave Mandelkern declined comment, telling the Post to speak with Board President Karen Schwarz, who responded through Vice Chancellor Mitch Bailey. Bailey said that the board is not commenting on Whitlock’s employment at the district, beyond what is in the “public record.”
Correction: An earlier online version of this story said that Whitlock’s wife had been employed by the district. Although she is a party to the separation agreement and signed that document, she was not an employee of the district.