A smear campaign involving a fictional character named Wanda Muscle and allegations of trophy hunting are the latest additions to the theatrical dysfunction plaguing the San Mateo County Harbor District Board of Commissioners.
Add into the mix a highlight reel of outbursts at meetings starring its most disruptive member, Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, continued infighting over sexual harassment allegations filed by Brennan in 2017 and renewed discussion about a nearly decade-old “sign-gate” controversy, and what can be stated with certainty is an election is coming up.
The five-member Harbor District Board, which supports operations of Pillar Point Harbor in Princeton and the Oyster Point Marina/Park in South San Francisco, has for decades been criticized for dysfunction, with multiple Grand Jury investigations calling for its dissolution over crippling battles among elected commissioners.
The Board’s dysfunction reached perhaps a crescendo at a Zoom meeting on April 15, during which Commissioner Brennan launched into a lengthy and highly-publicized tirade against fellow Commissioner Tom Mattusch after he voted differently from her on an agenda item. During the outburst, she used colorful language to re-draw attention to a three-year-old sexual harassment charge she filed against Mattusch.
Less than a month after the April 15 meeting, San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley renewed the oft-suggested prospect of dissolving the Harbor District Board, remarking during his assessment that one commissioner is “repeatedly creating commotions and disruptions that are not beneficial.” In May, the County supes voted unanimously to request an updated municipal service review of the district, and to offer to share in the cost of hiring a consultant who could instill decorum at Board meetings.
But with an election looming, sparks were only beginning to fly.
On the Nov. 3 ballot, Lemoine “Lee” Fernandez is running to unseat Mattusch for District 4. Fernandez happens to be Brennan’s mother. Adding to the drama: former Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith is running against incumbent Virginia Chang Kiraly, also a Brennan nemesis, for District 5. Keith and Kiraly have history. Controversy in 2011 over whether John Woodell, Keith’s husband, removed one of Kiraly’s campaign signs resulted in a number of lawsuits. Woodell’s lawsuits were tossed in 2014 by a judge who “labeled the controversy as ‘sign-gate’ in one of her rulings,” the Daily Post reported.
The upcoming Harbor District election already has its fair share of campaign shenanigans.
Recently, emails from a “Wanda Muscle” went out to residents that aimed to defame Mattusch. Similar emails have attacked Kiraly. “Wanda Muscle” was also linked to a recent Change.org petition accusing Mattusch of being a big game trophy hunter. A Facebook account dating back to 2018 alleges, “What Will Tom Kill Next.” Mattusch strongly denies the claims made against him, saying he participates in ethical hunting that helps to raise funds for wildlife conservation.
Mattusch, as well as Nancy Reyering, another colleague on the commission, believe the smear campaign is the work of Brennan and John Ullom, a citizen and self-admitted disrupter at the Harbor District and other local agencies.
Brennan strongly denies involvement in the smear campaign, while Ullom takes sole responsibility.
‘Only regret I have is Wanda’
“The only regret I have is Wanda,” Ullom told Climate.
Ullom says Brennan has not been assisting him in his personal campaign to paint Mattusch and Kiraly in a negative light.
“I also am the one who is making the videos that expose them for what they are,” he said.
Ullom’s antics have made headlines in the recent past. In 2017, Half Moon Bay city officials reached a $50,000 settlement with a former city clerk who alleged the city failed to protect her from alleged harassment by Ullom.
Ullom is not shy about stirring the pot and insists he can back up his claims. But he has abandoned hiding behind the Wanda Muscle identification. “It did not feel right so I outed myself…,” he said.
“As far as Brennan goes, we find each other useful sometimes but right now she is pissing me off,” he said.
Brennan told Climate she has “nothing to do with anything John Ollum is doing related to this campaign.”
“He’s impossible to keep up with,” she said. “I don’t know what that guy is up to, I have nothing to do with it.”
No matter who is behind the smears, they have become topics of community discussion on social media.
Mattush told Climate it amounts to a “well-coordinated smear campaign.”
Mattusch said he grew up a non-hunter and, after trying target shooting, wanted to try harvesting his own food, “because wild game has no chemicals or hormones found in store-bought food.” He endorses the Pittman–Robertson Act that taxes hunters in order to fund wildlife conservation.
“Whether hunting in the U.S. or around the world, hunting pays for conservation and saves species,” Mattusch said.
Mattusch also calls Brennan’s sexual harassment claims a “false” attempt “to extort taxpayer dollars.”
In 2017, Brennan accused Mattusch of sexual harassment stemming from allegations that in part included a 2014 email he sent to her and reportedly 41 other people that included pornographic images. At the time, Brennan was assisting Mattusch in his campaign for commissioner. Mattusch claimed the email was a misguided attempt at a joke.
An investigation commissioned by the Harbor District found Brennan’s sexual harassment allegations “more likely than not unfounded.” While the email Mattusch sent contained images that can easily be deemed offensive and inappropriate, an independent investigator noted they were sent before he was elected commissioner. The investigator added that Brennan “was not so offended” at the time that she stopped supporting Mattusch’s campaign. “…But rather, she continued to campaign for him when he was on his safari trip that lasted several weeks,” the investigator’s report states.
Mattusch called Brennan’s continued accusations “bold and very hurtful towards me.”
“I’m not the first person that this Commissioner has tried to destroy,” he said.
Mattusch referenced a 2018 Daily Post report pegging the cost the allegations have had on the Harbor District.
“This case brings the total amount that the district has spent in settlements and legal fees involving Brennan to $780,099,” the Daily Post stated at the time. “The figure includes investigations into complaints Brennan has filed and investigations into complaints about her, as well as settlements to employees.”
Mattusch said Brennan’s antics overshadow the important work done by the Harbor District Board.
“It is a shame that a single bad actor, a single commissioner, can cause so much havoc, expense, and ill will,” he said.
Ullom defends Brennan as a fearless, sorely-needed reformer of the Harbor District who helped get rid of the “old boys” of the district’s past.
However, he adds, “Sabrina is a very good war-time general, but does not know how to win the peace.”
Photos of current San Mateo County Harbor District commissioners, from top left to top right: Sabrina Brennan and Tom Mattusch, and from bottom left to bottom right: Nancy Reyering, Virginia Chang Kiraly and Edmundo Larenas