Deputy Public Works Director Turner tells Council of concerns, resigns

May 21, 2010
Santa Paula City Council

Santa Paula lost another top Public Works official when Deputy Director Jon Turner told the City Council at the May 17 meeting of his concerns regarding community services and the budget report and then publicly resigned.

Turner, who joined the city in 2006, also told the council that Cliff Finley - abruptly fired May 12, the day before the council’s first swipe at a troubling deficit - “Is known for doing what is best for the community... “

Turner said he had worked with Finley in the public and private sectors for 16 years and that Finley “personifies Santa Paula” and was tasked “with creating an in house design team that could execute many of the neglected infrastructure improvement projects in Santa Paula.”

Turner told the council he wanted to “clear up some statements and made in writing,” about himself as well as the Capital Projects Engineer Fred Rizzo, whom he described as an “expert in the county for utility and transportation project design” with vast responsibilities in many department areas.

Rizzo’s position - as well as Turner’s own - were revealed to be on the chopping block to help balance the $1.2 million budget shortfall; Turner said he took exception to Rizzo’s job described as “more of a design technician.”

Turner is a state registered civil engineer due to a two-day exam that “is the most difficult in the nation, so I am allowed to be registered in any of the other 49 states in the union by simply paying a fee... my license allows me to put together projects that, if not done correctly, can kill someone,” and lead to prosecution.

Turner also gave examples of the grants he has secured for the city totaling millions of dollars.

After more remarks about the department and his duties, Turner, who served as Interim Public Works Director while Finley served as special projects director, a task he later shared for seven months with being the interim city manager, said “I recognize that I have not been a popular employee,” and one of the primary “tasks I was hired for was creating efficiency in an organization... I sleep comfortably at night with my decisions.”

Now, he added, is not the time to be reducing public works staff “as the state and federal regulatory requirements require Santa Paula to function at the same level as a large city with less staff and less pay.”

“While the proposed cost savings measures in front of you now is wrought with incomplete research and accounting errors, in the spirit of cooperation and to try to preserve the positions of the dedicated public works staff in all the divisions, I hereby tender my resignation as the deputy public works director.”

The council and City Manager Jaime Fontes had no comment as Turner put down his city keys and exited Council Chambers.

Later, Turner said “The bottom-line is it was a great experience working for the city; I met some great people,” both in and outside City Hall.

“For me, it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Turner believes the city’s direction towards hiring outside workers will not only cost jobs but hamper community services.

He said the public works department is “An amazing bunch of people, all paid less than everyone else in the county, who all work together as a team,” crossing over into other duties no matter the need or emergency. “That’s the public works department and it was an amazing opportunity to work with them and all the people of Santa Paula,” where he resides.

Although creating programs and efficiencies were the duty of Finley and Turner, “staff, all of them, made it happen.”

He noted that equipment maintenance workers that could be lost would be able to find employment elsewhere “But they like working for the city; there’s a lot of talent there,” who can keep everything running from a pickup to a fire engine.

“I was lucky that I worked with people that were dedicated to giving the community the best treatment.”

Turner, who made about $110,000 annually, said when Finley was fired “Basically, I was a non-existent person,” and he found it ironic that prior to his resignation there were several presentations made by the council.

“For crying out loud,” Turner noted, “it’s Public Works Week.”


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