Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz, who has been leave since he crashed his car after drinking on election night, will retire at the end of the month, according to a letter Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald read during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
“After many years working in public service, I have decided that my family now needs to be my first priority, and I will take some time away from working to spend time with my children as they enter their high school years,” read Fitzgerald from Felz’s letter while choking back tears.
In the wee hours of Nov. 9 after attending election night parties, Felz crashed his minivan within a half a mile from his house in a residential neighborhood north of downtown – driving it over a curb and into a tree. When police responded to the scene, they smelled alcohol on Felz but did not give him a breathalyzer test.
A police sergeant conducted a field sobriety test and apparently determined Felz was not drunk, according to a memo former Police Chief Dan Hughes sent to some council members later that day.
New Mayor Bruce Whitaker, who has been outspoken about the incident, wasn’t included in the email from Hughes to the rest of the council.
“Joe (Felz) has not had the opportunity to discuss with (then) Councilmember Whitaker so he asked that I delay sending it to him until he has an opportunity to do so,” read the email from Hughes, who left the city last month to take a job at Disneyland.
Whitaker previously said Felz called him the day after the crash and said he lost control of the car because he was fidgeting with loose wires underneath the steering column.
The city attorney’s office has denied requests by Voice of OC for both the police report on the crash and body camera footage. The case has been sent to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for review.
Although the city referred a Voice of OC reporter seeking a report on the incident to an internal affairs investigator, neither the department nor City Attorney Dick Jones will confirm or deny an ongoing internal affairs investigation.
On Tuesday, Fitzgerald said Felz helped bring aboard Hughes to clean up the police department after the city was engulfed in controversy following the 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, at the hands of Fullerton officers.
“When we needed a leader to step up and lead us through those tough times, Mr. Felz stepped up and was there,” Fitzgerald said.
“I can’t thank him enough for his decades of hard work in the city,” Councilman Greg Sebourn said.
After the meeting, Whitaker said he plans to press Rackauckas’ office for more information about the case.
Meanwhile, the city will hold a special meeting Jan. 5 to begin the selection process for an interim city manager. Human Resources Director Gretchen Beatty has been the acting city manager since the election night crash.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC contributing writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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