Metropolitan Transit System Board of Directors Elects San Diego Councilman Stephen Whitburn as Next Chair

Whitburn will replace former MTS and County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher, who resigned from both posts after a former MTS employee sued him alleging sexual harassment and assault


After more than a month without an official leader, the Metropolitan Transit System's Board of Directors Thursday elected San Diego City Councilman Stephen Whitburn as its chair.

Whitburn, who served as interim chair following former chair and county supervisor Nathan Fletcher's resignation on April 4, will fulfill the remainder of the Board-appointed chair term through 2023, and the next term, which begins in January 2024.

"It is a great honor to lead our region's public transit system," Whitburn said. "There are so many positive things happening for transit in San Diego."

He detailed the $407 million budget MTS passed Thursday, the ways in which the system is recovering ridership at a faster clip than many other transit agencies and a new all-electric Rapid route planned in the South Bay.

The Board also appointed El Cajon City Councilmember Steve Goble as vice chair.

The leadership will have to tangle with an investigation into the behavior of Fletcher and legal ramifications of that behavior.

Fletcher was one of the most powerful men in the county when he announced on March 26 that he was entering a treatment center outside the state for post-traumatic stress, trauma and alcohol abuse, and abandoned a planned run for state Senate.

The MTSBoard met for the first time since a lawsuit accused the agency and former chair and County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher of sexual assault and harassment. NBC 7's Priya Sridhar has more.

On March 29, he announced his resignation from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors effective at 5 p.m. on May 15, following a tumultuous day in which he claimed to have had an affair with a Metropolitan Transit System employee, who was subsequently fired and who then sued him, alleging sexually assault and harassment. He denies the charges.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit against Fletcher, former MTS Public Information Officer Grecia Figueroa, alleges Fletcher groped her on two occasions and pursued a sexual relationship with her for months, leading to her abrupt firing on the day Fletcher announced his state Senate candidacy.

Figueroa alleges that beginning in 2021, Fletcher began "stalking" her social media account, then sought to meet with her privately on several occasions. On two of those occasions, she claims he assaulted her.

The complaint alleges Figueroa "was intimidated by the dynamic Fletcher had created" and says she "felt pressured to reciprocate Fletcher's advances because she knew he had authority as both a career-politician and as chair of the MTS Board to destroy her career at MTS and to potentially humiliate her publicly if she made him angry."

She alleges that on Feb. 6, she was fired during a closed-door meeting and believes "that MTS terminated her employment because she was sexually harassed by defendant Fletcher."

The lawsuit filed last week in San Diego Superior Court alleges sexual assault and battery and sexual harassment by Fletcher. It also names the MTS as a defendant and alleges sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment and retaliation, and whistleblower retaliation.

The MTS board has begun the process of selecting outside counsel and has started the investigation into Fletcher.

The MTS Board of Directors is made up of 15 local elected officials — four from San Diego, two from Chula Vista, and one each from the county of San Diego, and the cities of Poway, Santee, El Cajon, La Mesa, National City, Lemon Grove, Coronado and Imperial Beach.

"We look forward to working with Councilmember Whitburn as our new chair, and advancing our mission of providing safe and efficient transit service that San Diego residents depend on," said Sharon Cooney, MTS CEO. "Chair Whitburn has demonstrated an understanding and passion for transit, and he represents thousands of constituents who rely on it to get to jobs and educational opportunities in our region. We are fortunate to have a strong transit advocate taking this leadership position on our board."

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