The Morning Report
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County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s decision to resign following a former Metropolitan Transit System staffer’s allegation that he sexually assaulted and harassed her has not settled whether the agency handled the situation appropriately.
Grecia Figueroa alleges not only that Fletcher assaulted and harassed her – he denies the allegations and says they had consensual interactions – but that she was fired, on the day Fletcher announced his state Senate campaign, over the incidents.
The day the lawsuit against Fletcher and MTS went public, the agency’s legal counsel sought to address concerns about Figueroa’s firing.
“MTS is aware of the lawsuit from a former MTS employee and has engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation,” Karen Landers, MTS general counsel, wrote in a statement. “MTS does not comment on pending litigation.”
But the agency’s fast action to initiate a probe into Figueroa’s claims is very different than what Landers’ statement suggests.
The next day, in response to requests for details into the investigation, Landers clarified that it isn’t a public-focused investigation at all.
“MTS has assigned this lawsuit to the law firm of Paul Plevin Quarles, which handles labor & employment matters for MTS,” Landers wrote Thursday. “There is no set budget/cost estimate for this representation. MTS’s existing legal services contract sets hourly rates that may be charged. Since this matter proceeded directly to litigation, the investigation will take place as part of MTS’s response to that lawsuit. In every case, MTS must first conduct an investigation to understand the facts and the legal standards that apply. This also helps MTS determine whether liability is disputed, or if the case primarily relates to the fair amount of damages that should be paid.”
The “investigation,” in other words, is the agency’s legal defense in the case in which it is a named defendant conducting its own review of the incident as it prepares its response.
We asked the agency’s 15 board members, all elected officials throughout the region, whether they supported an outside investigation that would provide the public a clear understanding of who, if anyone, was aware of any relationship between Fletcher and Figueroa, what they knew and when they knew it, and not only if it had anything to do with her firing, but whether her firing was appropriate. We also asked Nora Vargas, chair of the county board of supervisors.
Twelve of the 15 MTS board members ignored the request. Vargas said she shouldn’t be expected to weigh in because she isn’t on the board.
San Diego Council President Sean Elo-Rivera called for a real investigation.
“It is unacceptable for powerful individuals to abuse their power,” he wrote in a statement. “It is even more dangerous when systems and institutions allow for such abuses of power, and worse yet when those systems or institutions are participants in the abuse. While I have seen nothing to date that indicates MTS allowed for or participated in Mr. Fletcher’s abuse of power, I need to know that is the case and the public needs to know as well. I fully support an investigative process that gets to the full truth of this matter and does so in a way the public can have full confidence in.”
Late Friday, San Diego Councilman Stephen Whitburn, who is acting chair of MTS, issued a related press release.
“I am calling a special closed-session meeting of the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Board of Directors to discuss the allegations made this week by a former MTS employee and to provide direction as the Board may deem appropriate,” he wrote. “The meeting will be next week, and the precise day and time will be set on Monday.”
“Under these circumstances, I believe an independent investigation by an outside counsel commissioned by the Board of Directors would be appropriate in addition to the investigation by the law firm contracted by MTS to provide legal representation in this matter,” Whitburn said.
Mayor Todd Gloria said he believed Whitburn will lead the MTS board to properly address the situation.
“The accusations made this past week against Supervisor Fletcher and the Metropolitan Transit System are serious and warrant full investigations, he wrote in a statement.