As many of you know I filed a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request on Thursday, 18 April, 2013 with the city of 29 Palms. That request was to find out what severance package former city manager Richard Warne actually received following his departure from the city of 29 Palms.
The reason for my request was the lack of clarity that was provided by the city through it’s various press releases. One could not understand if Warne retired or was he fired? After pressure was provided by the local radio station Z107.7 a second press release was issued that clouded the issue even more. That press release claimed that Warne was offered the choice of being terminated/fired or he could retire. According to the city Warne opted to retire and was paid the severance package that was dictated by his contract.
The problem with that press release was that Warne had two separation packages written into his contract. One package was for termination, in other words being fired. That package provided a years worth of salary, along with unused sick, administrative and vacation leave, plus a years worth of health and dental benefits. The second severance package provided only unused sick, administrative, and vacation leave payment for a voluntary departure form the city, such as resignation or retirement.
Some people, including myself, interpreted the second city press release as being that Warne left the city on his own, meaning voluntary separation because he “retired”, so therefore, he only rated the second severance option not the more robust first severance option.
My CPRA request was to find out what actually happened.
Well, my wife and I left for Las Vegas on Sunday the 21st to see Elton John. We returned today the 24th and there was no answer from the city that they even received my CPRA request. Nothing. Neither the city clerk, the city manager, nor any city council member sent anything. It was as if I sent a request into the Twilight Zone and it was gone. Now, one could say it is not good policy for a city to simply ignore a CPRA request. Not that the city was ignoring the request but not acknowledging receipt of the request is at the least very poor customer service. It reminded me of my last CPRA request which took the city 30 days to answer while the city was under the management of Richard Warne and I thought to myself even though he has been fired nothing has changed.
If one understands that a city has 10 days to answer a CPRA request it was not looking good that our city had already exhausted six days and had not even acknowledged receipt.
I then went out and sought the help of someone that has shown that they care and has tried to change things. That person has hit some snags and some of those snags have been significant but at least I knew I would be listened to. I contacted Cora Heiser.
In less than 3 hours I received a telephone call from the city attorney. I had my answer. It did not take 30 days, instead it took 3 hours.
As it turns out Richard Warne was allowed to “retire” and took with him the “firing” severance package but without the “firing” label being placed on his resume. The cost of that firing to us as tax payers was $201,000.00 including benefits.
To be honest with you all that was a fair price to pay in order to terminate Richard Warne. As we are now finding out via the proposed budget that Warne had drafted up for 2013 – 2014 he did some shady things in regards to accounting for expenses and various job positions within the city.
I have no bones to pick with the council for paying him that much money. My issue with the council was, and has been, their inability to own up to their actions when questions started to be asked and people such as myself and Z107.7 knew that the truth was not being provided.
In conclusion, it appears, at least for now, that our city is moving towards an era of greater transparency. This is due in no small part to the courage of Cora Heiser to confront the “Dragons” of secrecy and bureaucracy.
She made something happen today in three hours not thirty days.
I say thank you Cora and thank you to the city of 29 Palms with a small caution. Please do not fall back into the days of secrecy and deceit that was the hallmark of now fired city manager Richard Warne.
By the way Mr. Warne there are so many postings on the internet that you were fired that no city or town in its right mind would ever think you simply retired from 29 Palms. You Sir were fired as is demonstrated by the severance package you received – the “firing” package.