Cambrian Resident

Valley water district chair to step down temporaril­y

- By Paul Rogers progers@ bayareanew­

Gary Kremen, a Silicon Valley tech entreprene­ur who co-founded and dropped out of the race for Santa Clara County assessor earlier last week after a controvers­y involving seminude photos of him and his girlfriend being sent to a campaign aide, will step down temporaril­y as chairman of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

In a statement, Kremen, 58, said March 2 that he will remain on the board of the water district, a government agency based in San Jose that provides drinking water and flood protection to 2 million people in Santa Clara County.

But he said effective March 22, he will give up the chairman's gavel for 60 days so the water district can hire an outside legal firm to look into whether he has ever sexually harassed any members of the water district staff.

“These alleged assertions do not relate to the Santa Clara Valley Water District in any way whatsoever,” Kremen said of the photo controvers­y that derailed his campaign to unseat longtime Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone.

“However, to provide assurance to the residents of Santa Clara County that issues of illegal sexual harassment have not been present at the water district, I am asking for the Board of Directors Ethics Committee to conduct an independen­t investigat­ion with due process to determine if any of the allegation­s of illegal sexual harassment have occurred with water district staff.”

The water district board will vote March 22 whether to hire an outside law firm to conduct an investigat­ion.

In the wake of the photo controvers­y, several South Bay political leaders, including state Sen. Dave Cortese, D-Campbell, and Assemblyma­n Alex Lee, D-Milpitas, have urged Kremen to resign from the water district board.

Rick Callender, CEO of the water district, said March 3 that he is unaware of any allegation­s of sexual harassment against Kremen. In the past several days, however, he said he has been notified by five people of other issues involving Kremen.

“I've gotten anonymous emails,” Callender said. “None of them say sexual harassment, but they say he has bullied staff.”

Barbara Keegan, a water district board member, said that she will vote to support a broad investigat­ion.

“The water district has robust guidelines in place to avoid harassment of any staff person or individual who comes before us,” Keegan said. “I welcome the opportunit­y of having an investigat­ion as to whether any type of harassment was committed.”

The misconduct accusation­s first were reported by San Jose Spotlight last Saturday. An anonymous former campaign worker said Kremen included seminude photos of himself and his longtime partner, Essy Stone, sitting in bed and unclothed from the waist up.

Kremen said in his statement March 2 that he uploaded 20,000 family photos from his iPhone into Dropbox and shared the link with the former staff member, not realizing there were four photos that showed Stone partially topless. He said they were taken after she had breastfed their infant son and that Stone feels “she has been the victim of a crime” because the former staff member shared the photos with others.

“This was at best a betrayal of trust and at worst revenge porn — an unauthoriz­ed non-consensual sharing of private pictures which led to invasion of privacy,” Kremen said.

The former staff member told San Jose Spotlight that Kremen refused to delete the photos and became angry when confronted with the issue last year. On March 3, Lee said temporaril­y stepping aside as chairman is not enough.

“Gary Kremen still needs to resign,” the assemblyma­n said. “Dragging this debacle out with taxpayer money does nothing to reinforce our belief in survivors, nor is it in the best interest of the public.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, one of Kremen's critics, said a water district investigat­ion of his behavior at that agency should not muddy the other issue.

“I support an investigat­ion by the Valley Water board of directors as long as it is robust, independen­t and transparen­t,” Ellenberg said. “This investigat­ion, however, must not serve as a deflection from the allegation­s of hostile workplace and harassment issues raised by the former staffer.”

Said Kremen: “My partner and I are confident that as the truth comes to light, the public's trust in me will be restored. In the meantime, I ask for everyone's patience.”

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