"Most of the employees I interviewed described him as a bully, intimidating, threatening and the like toward men and women in the workplace," Ms. Topliff wrote in her report.
Mr. Johns was fired Oct. 29, following a two-month paid suspension after complaints that he created a hostile work environment were lodged by police Chief Bob Brennan and another, unnamed Atherton employee. While the hostile workplace complaint appears to have no merit, according to Ms. Topliff, town official clearly found grounds for Mr. Johns' dismissal in the report.
Mr. Johns is contending that the report is inaccurate, and is part of the retaliation he faced for turning up apparent fiscal 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.
"I am confident that, when this matter is litigated, a court of competent jurisdiction will find that the report has no basis in fact and that the investigation will be seen for what it is — a sham conducted for the purpose of promoting the personal and political objectives of certain appointed and elected officials within the Atherton Town Government," Mr. Johns said in a written statement to the Almanac.
But while Mr. Johns has turned up expense policy violations in other departments, the report accuses him of making dubious purchases of his own with a town credit card.
The most serious findings in the report involve Mr. Johns' allegedly using town computers and town time to pursue his outside consulting jobs, viewing pornographic images on his computer, and violating the town's code of conduct with disrespectful and intimidating behavior toward colleagues and town consultants. Ms. Topliff's report also contends that Mr. Johns undermined the authority of former city manager Jim Robinson.
Mr. Johns denied viewing the pornographic images.
"Since I was away from the office on that day, and since the town of Atherton's Internet account can only be accessed via the town's local area network, it is a physical impossibility for me to have violated the town's e-mail and Internet access policy," he said in his statement.
While allegedly alienating his fellow town employees, Mr. Johns has enjoyed the support of the Atherton Audit Committee, a panel of council-appointed residents who oversee the annual outside audit of the town's books. They point to the series of unblemished, "unqualified" audits the town has received since Mr. Johns became finance director in late 2001.
Councilman Charles Marsala, who has been an outspoken detractor of Mr. Johns, said the Topliff report mirrors his own research, conducted via numerous public records act requests for Mr. Johns' e-mails, phone records and expenses.
"John Johns' shenanigans with abusing his town credit card and position as financial director cast a cloud over the unqualified audits Atherton has received over the past several years," Mr. Marsala said. "He has hired a neighbor as an (administrative) assistant at $50 per hour without approval, (and) on his Town credit card we noticed an iPod, a camera, and photo printer for personal use."
Mr. Johns said he never concealed the purpose of the iPod he bought.
"The iPod was displayed in full view of staff and of the city manager and ... no attempt was made to conceal the nature of the item's use. In fact the city manager commented (to) me on my choice of music on more than one occasion," Mr. Johns said in his statement.
The issue of whether Mr. Johns was actually working full time for the town rose this summer, when Atherton resident Randy Lamb presented the City Council with a copy of Mr. Johns' contract with Sutter County and his bid on another, out-of-state consulting job.
Mr. Johns has said that he took on outside work with the knowledge of City Manager Robinson, who understood that Mr. Johns was taking a pay cut when he came to work for the town. However, Mr. Robinson told Ms. Topliff he was unaware of Mr. Johns' outside work, with the exception of a teaching job Mr. Johns held when he was hired.
Ms. Topliff said she believes Mr. Johns violated Atherton's fraud policy by spending time on outside jobs that appeared on his timesheet as hours spent working for the town. Using town assets for personal gain is prohibited under Atherton policy.
"I do not have sufficient information to conclude that Mr. Johns did not perform at least eight hours of work for the town on the days he reported as time worked, but I do note that in April 2007 he reported 128 hours worked for HRA (Harvey Rose & Associates consulting firm) — equivalent to 16 eight-hour work days, or over three weeks — while working for the town every day that month — 21 work days — according to the town's time records," Ms. Topliff's report said.
Many employees told her they noticed that Mr. Johns arrived late, left early, and was frequently absent, Ms. Topliff's report said.
Mr. Johns said he used his desktop computer in the finance department for backup data storage, which is why Ms. Topliff's investigation found two documents relating to his outside consulting. He said Ms. Topliff never questioned him about it. "Incidental and minimal use" of government property is not prohibited, Mr. Johns said.
"Ms. Topliff acknowledges that only two documents during my six-year tenure were identified to have been created during normal business hours," Mr. Johns said in his statement. "Hence, the information acquired by Ms. Topliff supports, rather than contradicts, my assertion that the use of the town's computer systems was incidental and minimal."
In the report, Mr. Johns said he believes he's been targeted because he raised concerns with expenses in the Atherton Police Department and because Interim City Manager Wende Protzman's husband is a retired police officer. "Mr. Johns believes that he is being retaliated against because Ms. Protzman perceives him to be a competitor of hers for the city manager job," Ms. Topliff wrote in her report.
This story contains 1070 words.
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