Warne Forced Out As 29 Palms City Manager

(April 19) Less than a month before he would have marked two years as Twenynine Palms city manager, Richard Warne was shown the door last week, following a closed door meeting of the city council on April 9.
Strict secrecy was maintained with regard to the firing, which according to a well-placed source was made upon a unanimous vote of the council. Warne departed City Hall that evening and did not return.  No immediate public announcement of Warne’s departure was made, however.  Without fanfare, City officials on Wednesday morning, April 10, contacted the firm of MuniTemps, a La Mirada-based firm which bills itself as offering municipal staffing solutions. By April 12, MuniTemps had arranged for Homer Croy, the retired city manager from Palm Desert, to take up the interim city manager assignment in Twentynine Palms.
On Monday, the city issued a press release announcing Warne’s leaving, characterizing his exodus as a “retirement.”
The Sentinel has learned that Warne did not leave of his own accord, but was terminated by a vote of the council, for no cited cause. Based upon the termination clause in Warne’s contract, he is to receive a full year’s compensation, including his salary of $171,500, a pension contribution of $4,287.50 and another $12,432 toward his retirement fund and $16,306 to cover his health plan. He is also to be paid a lump sum for all accrued but unused administrative leave and vacation time, and shall be paid for any unused sick leave.
Confirmation that the city was indeed providing Warne with severance pay undercut the representation that Warne had voluntarily retired. His contract did not provide for severance pay in the event of his taking retirement.
The local media, led by KCDZ 107.7 FM, cast doubt on the retirement claim, prompting City Hall to issue a clarification on April 17, which stated, “the council and Mr. Warne came to the mutual agreement that it would be best for him to retire in lieu of termination and he was provided severance as per his employment agreement.”
What remains unclear to most of the public at this point was the basis for the council’s decision to force Warne’s exodus.
A burning community issue has been the Local Agency Formation Commission’s pressure upon the Twentynine Palms Water District to divest itself of operational control of the fire department. One faction within Twentynine Palms had pressed the city to take on responsibility for the fire department. Warne had resisted that call, insisting that the city could not afford to bring the fire department in-house, given not only the operational cost but the pension liability absorbing the department’s seven personnel would represent to the city. He instead favored having the water district hand the fire department over to the county, but that option would have likely resulted in at least three of the six firemen employed in the department below the rank of chief being terminated and one of the department’s two fire stations being shuttered.  Ultimately, the city council followed Warne’s recommendation to pass on subsuming the fire department. Nevertheless, his position embittered much of the community, and he was attacked in both public forums and on internet postings as “a disaster,” and  “someone who hates Twentynine Palms firefighters,” as well as  “against public safety.”
Warne was particularly crosswise of Cora Heiser, who was elected to the council in November and was strongly in favor of a city takeover of the fire department. She characterized Warne’s January presentation of his findings that the city could not afford to take on the fire department as “uncouth.”
Despite the enmity Warne’s stance engendered, Councilman Jay Corbin  told the Sentinel that it was not his resistance to the fire department takeover that resulted in his forced departure. “That is evidenced by the 3-2 vote  of the council to follow his advice and not absorb the fire department,” Corbin said. The councilman acknowledged that Warne’s stand had garnered him enemies, but the council had not held that against him. “I told him I thought his assessment of the fire department was harsh,” Corbin said. “I also told him I agreed with his assessment.”
Corbin hinted, but did not directly state, that the council had other grounds for threatening Warne with termination. “I can’t get into that,” Corbin said. “It’s a personnel issue.”
On April 15, a committee of the city council interviewed two of the five finalists that had applied for the city manager’s post in 2011 when Warne had been hired.
“We are very close to getting a new city manager,” Corbin said. “I can’t tell you more than that at this point.”
“The council wishes to thank Mr. Warne for his service and express appreciation for the many positive contributions he provided to the city during his tenure,” the city’s April 17 statement says.
Croy told the Sentinel that he had no contact with Warne and did not anticipate nor expect Warne’s assistance in making a transition.
“I am just here to see that the city’s day-to-day operations continue to move forward,” Croy said.

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