BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Warren Lieberman, a longtime Belmont politician and candidate for Mayor, was part of a little-known four-member board of a sewer agency that kept residents in the dark about a $1.8 million payout to hush-up a sexual harassment case for three years.
Silicon Valley Clean Water paid $875,000 to its former general manager, Dan Child, and $1 million to a former employee who accused Child of sexual harassment.
The May 2018 firing of Child and the two payouts weren’t made public until July 2019 when an anonymous copy of a portion of Child’s April 2019 settlement agreement was sent to the Post.
The Post tried to get copies of the full settlement agreement and other paperwork from the district in order to find out what led to Child’s firing. Initially, the sewer agency agreed to release the documents to the Post, but the agency’s attorneys notified Child, who asked that they not release the documents until he could go to court to stop the release. The sewer agency complied with Child’s request.
“(The board) kept the broader public in the dark, and it kept its member agencies and cities in the dark too,” said former San Carlos Mayor Mark Olbert, who was new to the board when Child’s settlement was voted on.
Silicon Valley Clean Water, based in Redwood City, agency treats the sewage from Menlo Park’s West Bay Sanitary District, Redwood City, Belmont and San Carlos.
Both Olbert and Lieberman said they were not allowed by the sewer agency’s attorneys to discuss the lawsuit with the very councils that had appointed them.
This led to a two-and-a-half year court battle that ended earlier this year, with the Post obtaining the documents it originally requested in 2019. This means the information was kept in the dark for three years.
The documents revealed that Child was dismissed because one of his employees accused him of sexually harassing her by sending her inappropriate texts and having sexually explicit conversations with her at work and at home.
During this entire time, Lieberman was on the sewer agency’s board, which found out about the alleged sexual harassment sometime between late 2017 and May 2018.
Lieberman didn’t publicly explain why Child was being fired or why the district was paying out $1.8 million.
Lieberman claims in his campaign literature that he saved Belmont residents money while serving on the sewer agency’s board. But Olbert points out that Lieberman was also on the board when it fired Child for the alleged sexual harassment. Between the Child settlement and a $1 million settlement with Child’s alleged victim, “those decisions ultimately cost taxpayers a couple of million dollars,” Olbert said.
“I’m willing to believe that he negotiated stuff for millions. But there was also the millions the agency had to spend because they had an executive director engaging in sexual harassment,” Olbert said.
Olbert also pointed out that the board took advantage of a loophole in California disclosure laws to keep the public in the dark about what was being done with public money.
Lieberman said his claim about saving money is in regard to a matter in 2007 or 2008 when he reviewed documents and pointed out that Belmont was being overcharged by the sewer agency, ultimately saving Belmont taxpayers money.
But when asked about the Child settlement, Lieberman was quick to say that any decisions related to Child were made by the entire four-member board.
Lieberman said what occurred between Child and the employee was “a horrible incident,” and that “the board took action quickly.”
It appears, based on documents the Post obtained through its settlement with Child and the district, that Child handed in a resignation letter on May 10, 2018, three days after he was interviewed by the board’s investigator regarding the sexual harassment claims. The board fired him on May 22, 2018, saying that while an investigation was still ongoing into Child’s actions, it had received enough information from the investigator to fire Child then and there.
When asked why the payments were not disclosed to the public right away, Lieberman said that an agency needs to find out the truth and handle it appropriately, which is what he thinks the agency did in this case.
“You don’t want to make them relive all of that stuff. They’ve already gone through all of the harm and hurt…and an agency needs to take any such charges seriously,” Lieberman said.
However, the truth didn’t come out for three years when the sewer agency agreed to provide the Post the documents it had been seeking in order to settle the newspaper’s public records case. The sewer agency and Child also paid the Post’s legal fees.
Lieberman and Mates are facing off in the city’s first district elections. Up until this year, the council has been elected citywide and the mayorship has rotated on a yearly basis. Now the council has divided the city up into four districts, each of which will have a representative on council. The entire city will vote every two years for the mayor.