BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Council last night cut the funding contract it has with the Downtown Streets Team from three years to just one year after the homeless program refused to provide more information about a sexual harassment investigation.
The council, in a 6-0 vote, agreed to give the streets team $107,748 for one year street cleaning instead of the $360,000, three-year contract the San Jose-based nonprofit was expecting.
Palo Alto resident Owen Byrd, chairman of the streets team board, told council last night that two former employees of the nonprofit previously asked the board to fire two employees, Executive Director Eileen Richardson and her son, Chris.
The board hired an attorney, Amy Oppenheimer of Berkeley, to conduct an investigation that cost “almost $100,000,” Byrd said. The investigation involved allegations by five women.
“Long story short, we found absolutely no evidence of harassment,” Byrd told the council.
Byrd emphasized that no lawsuit was filed and there were never any criminal charges. The allegations were only made in the press, he said, but still the board decided to have an outside investigation.
“I am not worried about what downtown streets does in our city. They do a good job,” Councilwoman Liz Kniss said. “But what I’m concerned about is an overall reputation of downtown streets that was altered as a result of the allegations. … and even though I hear you saying you don’t want to release the report, even with redaction, that makes me uneasy.”
Byrd responded, “I don’t know why that makes anyone uneasy because the report …”
Kniss interrupted, “Because they haven’t seen it.”
When Byrd told Kniss that the investigation was done by a third-party who wasn’t involved in the streets team, she replied, “There shouldn’t be any trouble releasing what they did.”
“No,” Byrd said, “there’s absolutely trouble with it because even with the redactions it would be impossible to not have those reports reveal who was being discussed.”
Byrd did acknowledge between 2013 and 14, there were two staff parties “where there was too much alcohol. And the agency’s culture has since corrected itself.”
Palo Alto resident Rebecca Eisenberg, an attorney, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that Byrd was lying when he said he couldn’t release the report to the city.
“You know that you have the right to share this information,” she said.
Aram James, a retired public defender, also felt the streets team should release the report to the city.
“I think this is all a cover-up and you all need to do a separate investigation that can be released so we can all see where the truth lies,” James told council.
He asked the council to reconsider renewing a contract with the organization before such an investigation occurs.
Byrd told council that the streets team is involved in a separate legal dispute about record keeping for wages. He said that dispute is headed for mediation.
The harassment allegations from former streets team employees came to light in news reports late last year.
In an article published by San Jose Inside, sources described a culture of heavy drinking at the nonprofit. Chief Executive Richardson often got drunk and behaved inappropriately at office parties, sources alleged, and managers drank during staff meetings.
One former employee, whom the publication did not name, described a 2014 holiday party at the nonprofit’s headquarters. Richardson allegedly asked her if she was a lesbian, and then confessed that the worker was her “type.” The worker later fell asleep on the floor of an office, awakening to find Richardson allegedly next to her, gazing at her dreamily.
During an outing to Wine Country in 2016, Richardson’s son, Chris, also a streets team employee, allegedly detailed his sexual relationship with a former coworker to other employees.