Elected Position Makes an Ouster of Bart Hartman Unlikely
As if they hadn’t made their feelings known already, Bart Hartman’s bosses want him out.
The five members of the county Board of Supervisors are expected to approve an action this week publicly censuring Hartman, the county’s treasurer and tax collector, for sexually harassing a subordinate female employee, and asking him to leave his elected office.
This will be the board’s second attempt to get Hartman to resign from his $119,000 a year job. Last month, after approving a $100,000 settlement with Rhoda Corpuz, the county’s former chief deputy tax collector, the board called on Hartman to leave his post.
But Hartman, who turns 51 this month, said he didn’t agree with the county’s finding that he had engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment and refused to resign.
Hartman did not return phone calls for an interview, and a subordinate simply said he is not commenting on the latest board actions, which include a request to repay the $100,000 settlement and other measures to limit his powers.
In a statement he released last month, Hartman apologized for his actions but made it clear he had no intention of resigning from the job he was elected to in 1998. His term expires in 2002.
“While I would do things differently if I had to do it over again, I will not run from them or be embarrassed by them,” he wrote in the statement. “While I have fulfilled many of my campaign promises, such as accepting payments (the department collects more than $2 billion in property taxes annually) over the Internet and opening branch offices, there is still much to be done.”
The fact Hartman was elected and not appointed to his job practically guarantees his survival. Getting a recall on the county ballot would require collecting a minimum of about 120,000 signatures, a formidable amount that board members say is highly unlikely.
Supervisor Ron Roberts said he’s hoping Hartman does the right thing and leaves, but doesn’t expect he’ll do so. Neither does Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who said if Hartman’s position was under the board’s direct authority, he would have been fired.
“Mr. Hartman should resign. It’s in the best interest of the people, not only for the county as a whole, but for the operations of his office,” Jacob said.
A county investigation into the alleged harassment included interviewing county employees and reviewing thousands of documents. The entire report runs more than 900 pages in transcripted interviews, and some 500 pages of E-mails between Hartman and Corpuz.
The electronic messages show that Hartman, who is now separated from his wife, attempted to woo Corpuz, 43, into having a romantic relationship with him beginning soon after he was elected. Last year, he had Corpuz promoted to chief deputy tax collector, which raised her salary from about $48,600 to $103,500 annually.
Hartman controls a department of 121 employees and a budget of about $11 million. He also sits on two boards, one that controls the county’s $4 billion retirement fund, and a $2 billion pooled money fund for short-term investment of San Diego County and some 80 other public agencies, mostly county school districts.
According to the county’s investigative report released last month, Hartman clearly initiated pursuit of Corpuz, who is married. Although Corpuz denied ever leading Hartman on, the report noted there is also no evidence during a three-month period from June to mid-September that she clearly says, “No, stop this pursuit.”
Corpuz told investigators that she had a warm professional relationship with Hartman, but never told him she would leave her husband to pursue a relationship with him. She said she went along with Hartman’s overt expressions of love “just to survive,” fearing that if she didn’t, she would lose her job.
During the second half of last year, the two colleagues went on business trips together, shared poems and compact discs. Corpuz told investigators she was flattered by Hartman’s romantic interest, and expressed feelings for him, but none that reciprocated his romantic intentions.
On his 50th birthday, Hartman asked Corpuz to commit to him, but she told him she wasn’t interested in a personal relationship and that they should focus only on business.
“What part of NO do you not understand?” Corpuz wrote in one E-mail last September. “You promised several times that you will not bother me again, but you always do PLEASE, STOP THIS HARRASSMENT.”
Soon after, Corpuz said she intended to resign after taking a leave of absence. Hartman persuaded her to return to work on the condition that he confine his communiqu & #233;s to only work issues. However, in October, the working environment in the department deteriorated, as Hartman continued expressing his affection for Corpuz publicly.
“Despite her resolute rejection of him, he expressed his love for her in meetings where others were present,” according to the investigative report. “He concludes that her silence during these expressions indicated her intention to be with him.”
Later in the year, Hartman shifted some of Corpuz’s job responsibilities to another female staffer, an action which he inferred he would do earlier, and which she interpreted as a threat to her position.
In June, following “a significant exchange of E-mails,” Corpuz filed a formal sexual harassment complaint with the county, leading to the settlement and her assignment to a job in a completely different county department that paid an annual salary of about $75,000.
Ironically, in 1996 both Roberts and Jacob attempted to change the county treasurer’s job from being an elected one to one that is appointed by the board.
Roberts said his motivation was the actions of former Treasurer Paul Boland, who provoked some attention when he directed a higher-risk investment strategy for the county’s investment pool. The strategy, which included the use of derivatives, caused a paper loss to the pool of more than $360 million in 1994.
The ballot initiative to make the treasurer/tax collector position appointed failed by a large majority.
Jacob said Hartman’s job and its department should be rolled into that of the county auditor and controller Greg Smith, who also is elected by voters. Roberts disagreed, saying there is a need for two separate departments and executive managers for each.
In any case, Jacob said Hartman’s latest escapades point out some clear deficiencies in the way county government functions.
“We have a dysfunctional organization in the county in that we have a Board of Supervisors who represent the people of the entire region, and yet we don’t have direct control over our department heads.”
Hartman’s resolve to stay put is likely to cause problems among the employees he supervises, said an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment cases.
“If he keeps his job, it will probably create morale problems for the other people there because they’ll feel that if they engaged in the same type of behavior, they would probably be dismissed,” said Jeff Silberman, managing partner with Solomon Ward Seidenwurm & Smith in San Diego. “It potentially creates a hostile work environment.”