29 Palms City Council Hands City Manager Guzzetta His Walking Papers

(May 14) TWENTYNINE PALMS—For the second time in less than 14 months, the Twentynine Palms  City Council has abruptly terminated its city manager, citing no cause.
During a closed session at its regular council meeting on Tuesday May 13, the council voted to dismiss Guzzetta. The Sentinel has learned that the vote was a unanimous one, with all five council members voting to hand Guzzetta a pink slip.
The board appointed finance director Ron Peck to temporarily take the helm as city manager, pending a search for an interim city manager to oversee the city while a candidate to replace Guzzetta on a permanent basis is carried out.
Curiously, Guzzetta was given two days of administrative leave – Wednesday May 14 and Thursday May 15 – after which point his separation from the city took place officially.
Council members gave no reason for the firing beyond stating that they wished to take the city in “a new direction.”
Guzzetta’s tenure with the city was even shorter than that of his predecessor, Richard Warne. In April 2013, less than a month before he would have marked two years as Twenynine Palms city manager, Richard Warne was shown the door.
In both the Guzzetta and Warne cases, the council’s action was unilateral and caught the managers unaware. In the immediate aftermath of his sacking, Guzzetta released a terse statement claiming he was caught by surprise by the council’s action and that he was given no rationale for the move other than a generic expression of wanting to move in a new direction.
In initially announcing Warne’s leaving last year, the city issued a statement characterizing his exodus as a “retirement.” Shortly thereafter, however, reports in both the Sentinel and by the radio station KCDZ 107.7 FM, cast doubt on the retirement claim. The city agreed to provide Warne with 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. The provision of severance pay to Warne undercut the representation that he had voluntarily retired. His contract did not provide for severance pay in the event of his taking retirement. The city subsequently issued a clarification, 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.”
It is not clear what form of severance Guzzetta, who was formerly city manager in Desert Hot Springs, Hemet and Corte Madera, is receiving. At the time of his hiring, he was the general manager of the Joshua Basin Water District. He officially came aboard as Twentynine Palms city manager on June 1, at a salary of $184,000 per year, with medical benefits and a $6,000 per year contribution to his retirement fund. His contract required that Guzzetta, who lived in Riverside at the time, take up residence in Twentynine Palms by March 1, 2014.
Citing capital projects the city had undertaken under his watch and efforts to strengthen the city economically along with the relationships he had built with the Marine Corps command and the soldiers at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center as well as with city staff, the council and the chamber of commerce, Guzzetta said he believed he had made tangible progress during his nearly one year tenure with the city.  “Everyone in Twentynine Palms has been very welcoming, helpful, and a pleasure to work with,” he said.

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