News

Atherton report cites porn, expenses and 'bullying' in firing of finance director

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: In April 2010, the town of Atherton and former finance director John Johns settled a lawsuit brought by Mr. Johns against the town. In the lawsuit, Mr. Johns claimed he had been wrongfully terminated as a result of his work in auditing the town's finances. The settlement agreement included a $225,000 payout to Mr. Johns; a letter of commendation; and a brief reinstatement of Mr. Johns to the finance director position, allowing him to resign in good standing the same day. Both parties agreed that the settlement would not represent an admission of liability, misconduct, or wrongdoing. -- April 29, 2010.

BY ANDREA GEMMET, Almanac Staff Writer

It wasn't the hostile workplace charge that got the former Atherton finance director John Johns fired. According to an investigator's report, it was "bullying" behavior, dubious expenses and viewing online pornography with a town computer that apparently led to Mr. Johns' termination on Oct. 29, following a two-month suspension.

The accusation that started it all, police Chief Bob Brennan's complaint that Mr. Johns created a hostile work environment, appears to have no merit, according to investigator Mary Topliff.

A redacted version of her report was released on Dec. 11, in response to the Almanac's California Public Records Act request.

Mr. Johns is contending that the report is inaccurate, and is part of the retaliation he faced for turning up apparent misdeeds in the building, police and other town departments. He filed a $500,000 wrongful termination claim against the town, and is claiming that Atherton officials violated the town's whistleblower protection policy.

Ms. Topliff's 35-page report goes far beyond the initial hostile workplace complaint. Key findings she made include that Mr. Johns allegedly:

-- Violated town Internet policy by viewing pornography on a town laptop computer.

-- Used town property to work on his outside consulting jobs, and did some of his outside work when he was supposed to be working for Atherton.

-- Violated town expense policy, including buying a $400 iPod and computer equipment without following protocol.

-- Violated the town's code of conduct by disrespectful and intimidating behavior toward colleagues and town consultants.

Mr. Johns served as the town's top financial officer from November 2001 until his termination this fall. His public profile rose during last year's audits of the Atherton Building Department and the concurrent investigation by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury.

As a result of the audits, the council initiated a series of procedural reforms and the department's permit technician, Lois English, was reassigned.

An investigator's report on longtime Building Official Mike Hood is now set for release to the Almanac on Thursday, Dec. 13, said City Attorney Marc Hynes.

Mr. Hood retired abruptly in June 2006, shortly after Atherton officials admitted to hiring an investigator to look into allegations of impropriety in the building department.

For redacted copy of report by attorney Mary Topliff, who investigated allegations against former Atherton finance director John Johns, click here: http://www.almanacnews.com/media/reports/1197492036.pdf

Comments

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

QBB opens in Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 12 comments | 4,079 views

Become a Master Gardener - Deadline Sept 21
By Laura Stec | 16 comments | 1,243 views

One more year
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 613 views