June 16, 2011
A investigation into allegations that Marina Coast Water District board member Jan Shriner was creating a hostile environment for Marina Coast staff found no illegal behavior, but yielded a recommendation that the board engage in training on its own board policies–three weeks after board members threatened to walk out on such scheduled trainings during a board meeting.
At that same meeting last month, board members voted to hire an attorney, Jeanine DeBacker of Hoge, Fenton, Jones and Appel, to investigate Marina Coast General Manager Jim Heitzman's complaint of harassment. In her report to the board at a special meeting Thursday, DeBacker said there was no evidence of discrimination or harassment, but concluded, "I found that Director Shriner's conduct was intended to assail and distress Mr. Heitzman."
About 20 members of public crammed into the board room to hear the results of the investigation, and board president Bill Lee struck his gavel several times during public comment. "These outbursts won't be tolerated," he said during applause.
Commenters spoke overwhelmingly in support of Shriner, many of them citing her presence as the sole woman on a five-person board. Board member Dan Burns responded, "We didn't file a claim against each other for harassment here."
DeBacker reproduced a portion of Heitzman's complaint in her report: "[Shriner] seems to be intent on harassing and caus[ing] a hostile environment for staff, including the General Manager...If every ratepayer was spending $20,000 of the District's money in pursuit of firing the General Manager and having the General Manager leave, I think that we'd be broke in one month...I just want the board to be on notice that I don't intend to continuously [be] harassed by Director Shriner."
Heitzman had no comment after the meeting. Board President Bill Lee also declined to comment, saying a lawyer had advised him not to. Shriner says, "I do expect to continue with asking questions, but I may rethink how I do it. I need to pursue clarity around frequency."
DeBacker's recommendation: "I suggested that the Board be reminded of the Board Procedures Manual; through training, including specific training to new Board members as to guidelines for a functional, transparent, and cost-effective operation of the Board, and that the Board members hold each other accountable."
Shriner's attorney Ken Kroopf said, "To openly condemn someone like Jan, a board member, you should be ashamed of yourselves. It's a shame you had to hire an outside attorney."
The cost of the investigation was not immediately available. Clerk of the Board Paula Riso says she does not know when DeBacker will submit an invoice or for how much.