APPLE VALLEY — In response to a Daily Press inquiry sent Friday morning, the town and its mayor responded to the felony charge filed earlier this week against Assistant Town Manager Marc Puckett, as well as to public concern over his requested leave from work with pay.
The inquiry was sent via email to each of the town’s five councilors just after 10:30 a.m. Friday. Less than an hour later, Mayor Pro Tem Art Bishop texted the Daily Press that Mayor Scott Nassif would “speak for the town.”
In his response, Nassif said the Town Council takes the matter very seriously, “regardless of this issue taking place outside the Town’s employment.”
″(The Council) understands the impacts that this has on the organization and the image of the Town,” Nassif said. “All these issues, concerns and questions are being considered as facts unfold.”
The initial part of Nassif’s statement was similar to that of town spokesperson Gina Whiteside who, on Wednesday, said the town was “looking into this matter and will evaluate our next steps pending the information we receive.”
Whiteside prefaced those comments by saying the town had “not received any formal notification of the alleged charges”; however, DA spokesperson Chis Lee said Friday that his office does not contact an employer when charges are filed against an employee.
It should be noted that civil and criminal court records are available to the public via the San Bernardino County Superior Court website. No formal notification is required to view case information, but there are costs associated with accessing some documents.
Regarding discipline (suspension was exampled in the e-mailed inquiry), Nassif said the town manager is responsible for the hiring and firing of all town employees, adding that interim Town Manager Lori Lamson is evaluating information provided to the town and “keeping the Council apprised of the matter.”
For her part, Lamson told the Daily Press in August — before the felony charge was filed against Puckett — that California law “prohibits the Town from utilizing an arrest not resulting in a conviction in determining any condition of employment (including discipline).” She cited section 432.7 of the state’s Labor Code in doing so.
Puckett, 55, allegedly fled from the scene of a July 20 crash on southbound Interstate 15 in Rancho Cucamonga, an incident first reported by the Daily Press. He remains out of custody as of Friday afternoon, according to jail records.
During a July 27 phone conversation, Puckett told the Daily Press he was “in an accident,” but he denied hitting another vehicle approximately 600 feet south of Foothill Boulevard. His 2011 black Cadillac CTS was listed on an initial California Highway Patrol report as the vehicle that rear-ended a 2011 gray Toyota Prius belonging to Lola Espinoza. Puckett’s name was listed as the owner of the Cadillac on the report.
He also suggested he could have been followed by “some Ranchos person” before the crash, a reference to Liberty Utilities — the town’s largest water provider — a private company that Apple Valley filed an eminent-domain lawsuit against in early 2016.
Lamson previously denounced Puckett’s comments, but the Town Council has not publicly addressed them since they were documented in a previous Daily Press report in August.
On Friday, Nassif opted not to respond to that aspect of the inquiry, which requested reaction to Puckett’s Liberty comments, as well as an answer to why the Council has stayed mum on the matter.
Puckett, the town’s finance director, took personal leave for an undisclosed amount of time beginning Thursday. Whiteside previously confirmed the departure is paid, but offered no additional details.
As an executive-level employee, Puckett receives 80 hours per year in administrative leave. Those hours can be used throughout the year or cashed out. Vacation and sick hours, on the other hand, are accrued and roll over if untouched.
It’s remains unclear whether Puckett used administrative-leave or vacation hours, but Nassif elaborated on his decision on Friday.
“Mr. Puckett has personal issues that he is dealing with and has requested the use of his earned time off that he has accrued in order to deal with them,” he said. “It is important to understand that there are procedures that must be followed (in these instances).”
For clarification on the procedures, Nassif included the following statement from the town, included here in its entirety:
“Thank you for your concerns. The Town of Apple Valley takes these matters seriously. Employees have a right to confidentiality regarding personnel matters, including the use of personal leave accruals. This alleged incident occurred outside of employment with the Town and will be reviewed when we have more information. No additional statements will be released at this time.”
An arraignment date has not been set as of Friday afternoon, according to court records. If convicted as charged, Puckett would face three years in state prison, according to Lee.
Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press