Milpitas City Manager ‘Praised’ after Personnel Investigation

Praise be to Tom Williams.

On Monday, the Milpitas city manager sent out a glowing press release to announce that he’s not only been cleared of allegations by a former department head, but that everyone knows he’s doing a bang-up job.

“Mr. Williams is an excellent leader and someone Milpitas is proud to call our city manager,” Mayor Jose Esteves said in the press release, which is peppered with quotes from Williams’ three biggest supporters at City Hall.

The City Council launched an investigation in April after Steve McHarris, Milpitas’ former director of Planning and Neighborhood Services, filed a complaint on his way out of the city’s employ. He accused the city manager of creating a hostile work environment, trying to reverse an approval of paid time off and unethical dealings with a developer.

Demoralized by the work atmosphere, McHarris put in his notice after finding a job with the city of San Jose’s planning department. But he couldn’t ride out his last days due to what sources describe as retaliatory behavior from Williams.

McHarris left before his final month was up. His complaint filed on a Friday night went to former Human Resources director Carmen Valdez, who forwarded it to then-city attorney Mike Ogaz and Mayor Esteves.

Somehow, Williams learned about the allegations even though only three people in the world knew about the complaint. He called Valdez first thing Monday morning to ask about it. To prevent the matter from getting swept under the rug, Ogaz told the council and ordered a closed-session personnel review of Williams the very next day, a Tuesday.

A visibly agitated Williams remarked at an open council meeting leading up to the review that he felt Ogaz had put him in the crosshairs. Councilwoman Debbie Indihar-Giordano, a Williams faithful despite repeated reports from high-ranking city officials of his abusive temperament, ordered a personnel review of Ogaz, too.

Rather than having Ogaz investigate the McHarris complaint, the council hired outside attorney Amy Oppenheimer to advise them through the process. In its press release, which was titled “Milpitas City Manager Cleared of Allegations Lodged Against Him, Praised by City Council for Continued Leadership of the City,” the city says investigators spoke to department heads and other staffers in conducting a “thorough investigation.”

Sources, however, say that’s far from accurate.

The council hired Oppenheimer, who advised the council to conduct a separate investigation into the allegation of the city manager’s unethical dealings with a developer. Council members then dismissed that recommendation and dumped Oppenheimer to conduct their own review of the McHarris complaint.

Rather than calling on outside help, the council formed an ad hoc subcommittee of Mayor Esteves and Councilwoman Marsha Grilli to take over interviewing staff about the allegations. But, according to people close to the investigation, the pair never spoke to McHarris, Ogaz or Valdez.

The subcommittee then concluded, based on their limited conversations, that Williams was innocent of any wrongdoing and deserved kudos for the recent upheaval at City Hall.

“Not only does the investigation clear our city manager of all of the allegations lodged against him,” Grilli said in the press release, “equally important, it reaffirms our belief that Mr. Williams and our staff leadership is doing an excellent job at representing our citizens and taxpayers.”

While Williams came away with glowing reviews, Ogaz and Valdez didn’t survive the summer. Valdez left her HR post early, moving up her retirement date three times after Williams got upset about the way she handled the McHarris complaint. Ogaz was promptly fired under the guise of saving money by replacing his entire office with an outside law firm.

Valdez, who retired after 28 years without a celebratory send-off, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing Williams of retaliation. She quickened her retirement because she worried that if she didn’t leave in good standing, she could lose out on sizeable benefits and payouts.

Now that the city’s supposedly independent investigation has run its course, former employees are planning their next move. Ogaz plans to sue the city, sources say, while Valdez has opted to work with the EEOC's attorneys on her case.

The federal employment watchdog, which is responsible for enforcing labor laws, recently filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the city for hiring a younger, less experienced secretary over several more qualified candidates. A separate age discrimination lawsuit has also been filed through the Santa Clara County Superior Court by yet another employee.

Williams notes in the city’s announcement dismissing the McHarris complaint that Milpitas has a AAA credit rating and is “one of the top cities in the state and county to do business and reside.”

Below is a copy of the press release.

Milpitas City Manager Cleared of Allegations Lodged Against Him, Praised by City Council for Continued Leadership of the City

Milpitas, California –The Milpitas City Council announces that City Manager Tom Williams has been cleared of the allegations made against him by former Planning & Neighborhood Services Director, Steve McHarris. The Council expressed its continued confidence in Mr. Williams’ and the other department heads’ ability to manage the City and expressed thanks for their ongoing success in moving the City in the right direction.

“We are pleased and heartened to announce that, after a thorough investigation, Tom Williams has been cleared of all allegations made against him,” said Mayor Jose Esteves. “Mr. Williams is an excellent leader and someone Milpitas is proud to call our city manager” continued Mayor Esteves.

An investigation was launched last April after McHarris lodged a complaint against Mr. Williams containing false and misleading allegations, none of which held up under scrutiny.

The City hired the outside law firm of Amy Oppenheimer to conduct a thorough investigation. Investigators spoke to department heads and several staff members and found no violation of any laws. The City Council also formed an ad hoc-subcommittee of Mayor Jose Esteves and Councilmember Marsha Grilli to further investigate the claims and interview all department heads and other staff members. The sub-committee interviews reassured the City Council that relationships between employees, department heads and Mr. Williams are strong and positive and found overwhelming support for Mr. Williams and City leaders.

“Not only does the investigation clear our city manager of all of the allegations lodged against him, equally important, it reaffirms our belief that Mr. Williams and our staff leadership is doing an excellent job at representing our citizens and taxpayers,” Councilmember Marsha Grilli said.

Councilwoman Debbie Indihar-Giordano stated, “The City Council leadership and the strong management skills of Mr. Williams, our department heads and loyal staff, have been pivotal in providing our citizens the excellent quality of life and quality of government they deserve.” Past reports pointed out that the City of Milpitas is one of only four cities in the state to achieve an AAA credit rating and one of the top cities in the state and country to do business and reside.

During his tenure as City Manager, Mr. Williams has spearheaded a comprehensive reorganization, strategic plan and financial management that closed a $12 million structural deficit and brought efficiencies into the organization.

“After reviewing the investigative report, the City Council has more confidence than ever in Mr. Williams and his management team and believes that his leadership is continuing to move our city in the right direction,” Councilmember Giordano said.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

4 Comments

  1. The investigation does not clear the allegations against the CM, it only creates the illusion that he has been cleared. Who is he judged by? Where is the transparency? He has dirt on both Esteves and Grilli. Of course current employees were investigated and lied to protect their jobs. When will the Council learn about the obvious problem, which is the CM? Try using a lie detector test next time you investigate, first on the CM and then the Council.

  2. While a City’s credit rating, livabilty, and business environment is definately important. It means nothing if the City loses it’s soul. The shenangans of banks, Wall Street, and a multitude of government agencies (read this as polititions) etc. in the all to recent history are hopefully still in the public’s memory. The alleged investigation into the conduct of the City Manager of Milpitas is a joke and a sham. The idea that any group, whether they be elected polititions, agencies, or businesses can be trusted to police themselves is ludicrus. I find the high level of unacceptable behavior and/or sheer incompetance on the part of elected officials, who pass legislation that they expect the rest of us to follow, while they are immune from any consequences for their actions/behavior to be seriously disturbing. The actions of the City Council and City Manager of Milpitas are an example of an elected body and their appointee run amuck, out of touch, out of control, and out of soul. I hope you all know what happens when you get to close to a “Black Hole”. They are not just in outer space.

    • A city’s credit rating doesn’t mask the odors of the treatment plant, landfill, and now odors from the city’s pump station, frivolous authorization of spending, and bad decision making. There isn’t enough money to maintain the city in the future based on all the attorney fees used to defend the council and city manager, unless you raise taxes, rates, etc. When will the public recognize that the core leaders (City Manager Williams, and Council: Esteves, Grilli, and Giordano) are hurting Milpitas and its reputation? How can an Adhoc committee conduct an investigation and expect staff investigated to be truthful without jeopardizing their jobs? Milpitas is a temporary job for many. Count the overturn of staff. Are long term employees LOYAL or just stuck with their jobs? Use a lie detector test next time an investigation is conducted. Use an outside investigator and be transparent, next time. Those with ethics and saw that the city was heading in the wrong direction have either been terminated due to raising their concerns or had to resign, while those conducting the wrongdoings are still employed. Milpitas has become a stepping stone. Justice will come eventually. Patience…………….

      • Hey Patience, check out today’s article in Milpitas Post. It states that Williams caused a multi-car accident. Cha Ching! More money to be paid for claims due to Williams.