Hanford

Hanford investigation paints broader picture of hostile work environment by councilman

The independent investigation into allegations that former Hanford City Councilman Art Brieno harassed a high-level city official reveals more details into what led up to Brieno’s resignation. 

Brieno officially resigned for health reasons, but his exit came after Darlene Mata, the Director of Community Development Department, brought a claim against the city for being repeatedly harassed by Brieno. 

As part of the claim, Mata demanded that Brieno resign. She also is seeking a settlement payout of $1.25 million. 

Hanford commissioned an independent investigation – which The Sun has obtained – to look into the allegations. 

While Mata’s claim revealed a significant part from the investigation, such as the gender harassment, further details from the report continue to add to the story. 

Independent investigator Daniel Rowley, an attorney with Clovis-based law firm Fike & Boranian, interviewed Mata, Brieno, Hanford City Manager Mario Cifuentez and several other current and former city officials. 

Notably, Brieno compared Mata to his ex-wife in his interview. 

Rowley wrote the following in the report: 

“In his (Brieno) view, Ms. Mata ‘pushes her weight around.’ He volunteered that he understands that she is a divorced woman and pictures her as one who does not like men. In his opinion, she picks the men she likes and belittles those she does not like. In his assessment, she is arbitrary and manipulative. He also thinks that she has a hard time dealing with him and his questions. 

“Mr. Brieno then explained that he was married for 25 years and has gone through a divorce. He commented that they took vows, participated in counseling over the years and yet she did not keep her vows and they got divorced. He described his ex-wife as being intelligent and professionally successful. He noted that he was a Christian and paraphrased the scripture from the Bible that states that a wife should submit to her husband. Mr. Brieno then went on to state that his wife did not like him helping those who are low income and in need. He noted that his ex-wife became ‘uppity’ about his helping others. 

“He also reported that after they had been apart for 16 months, she wanted to reconcile and get back together, but he was unwilling to do so because he did not trust her. He then went on to state that he does not know Ms. Mata’s ex-husband, but Mr. Brieno is sure that her ex-husband ‘left something in her’ that causes her to ‘take it out’ on men. He stated that he feels sorry for her and does not want to see her get hurt, but they have a job to do. 

“Mr. Brieno then stated that he sees some of the characteristics of his ex-wife in Ms. Mata. He commented that he understood that she was previously married to a Vasquez, but that now she ‘prefers white people.’”

In his interview, Brieno went on to detail his opinions on the differences between men and women. 

Brieno told Rowley that he was able to work things out with men in the planning department when he was previously on the city council. He said that men feel challenged when working with other men and are able to work things out. 

“In his view, however, women have a different strategy in such situations and that is to undermine the other side,” Rowley wrote. “Mr. Brieno went on to state that with Ms. Mata, the undermining occurs by going to the City Manager and painting a picture of how ‘bad’ he is. He stated that in 30 minutes, a picture that is not very good can be painted. In this regard, he noted that Ms. Mata has total access to the City Manager, but his access is limited. In his view, the first one to paint a picture of the other has the advantage, like the perception of the importance of first impressions. He also noted that he sees Ms. Mata as a manipulator.” 

While the report was focussed on Mata, Rowley uncovered that Brieno also had issues with fellow councilwoman Sue Sorenson while interviewing former council candidate Jacob Sanchez. 

“According to Mr. Sanchez, during his discussions with Mr. Brieno, Mr. Brieno stated that Ms. Sorenson was evil and that she was the reason he could not pass anything,” Rowley wrote.

Read the report

https://beta.documentcloud.org/documents/20469665-20201231-brieno-investigation-report-revised-redacted-final
Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.