When it came time to hire Rick Callender as Valley Water CEO, the three women on the seven-member Board of Directors voted against him. But only two of those dissenters—Linda Lezotte and Barbara Keegan—have come under fire.
In a virtual board meeting earlier this week, community leaders and activists called for a probe into the pair, accusing Keegan and LeZotte, who are white, of trying to smear Callender—the first African-American to helm the agency.
“We are in year 2020 and racism is still in existence,” said Dan Daniels, the coastal area director of the NAACP’s California and Hawaii State Conference. “We have people like Director Barbara Keegan and [Linda LeZotte] that have shown you’re racists with this venom that you’ve tried to preach.”
Once again, as in the May meeting when the CEO hire came up for a vote, the critics conspicuously excluded the third dissenter—Nai Hsueh, an Asian-American and the only other woman on the board—from their allegations of racism and wrongdoing.
Two weeks ago, the board voted 4-3 to appoint Callender—a 24-year Valley Water veteran—to succeed Norma Camacho when she retires in July. But the vote was drawn down gender lines, with the three female directors, Keegan, LeZotte and Nai Hsueh, casting the dissenting votes. While none of the women voiced how they came to their decision, sources told San Jose Inside that they involved a preference for a CEO with more public works expertise and less of a political bent.
Oh, and one who hasn’t been accused of sexual harassment.
Callender previously told San Jose Inside that he can’t comment on the claims due to a nondisclosure agreement he signed (one that he has yet to prove exists). The district and the board of directors have also yet to address the matter publicly.
The morning after the vote last month, San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President Rev. Jethroe Moore sent a scathing letter to water district officials asking them to investigate Keegan and LeZotte for “likely unethical and likely illegal behaviors.”
Similar sentiments came to the fore again this week.
“For too long, black men and women have professionally had to suffer with the knee of those on their necks who don’t want to see them progress and even though the oppressor tries to disguise their actions as some of the other legitimate reasons to engage in discriminatory behavior,” said Alice Huffman, president of the California-Hawaii branch of the NAACP. “We all know what racism and discrimination smells and looks like.”
Critics also accused Keegan and LeZotte of leaking confidential information about Callender—charges they both adamantly deny.
On Tuesday afternoon, however, Hsueh, who chairs the board, said the district is taking Moore’s complaint “seriously.”
Valley Water Counsel Stan Yamamoto said that it has been submitted to HR. Per board policy, “the next step will be for the CEO [Camacho] and I to review that complaint and determine whether or not there’s sufficient basis for further action,” he said.
When reached by phone, Keegan declined to comment on the allegations made against her. LeZotte, for her part, told San Jose Inside that “the three women board members did not vote for Mr. Callender for CEO and it had nothing to do with his race.”
Regardless, she added: “The board has a process and we will see how that plays out.”