What Are We Doing?
Opposing the hostile takeover of Liberty Apple Valley
Marc Puckett, the Town of Apple Valley’s finance director who since 2011 has been serving as the town’s de facto assistant municipal manager, has been terminated.
Puckett had been on voluntary paid administrative leave since December 7, following a criminal filing against him on December 5 on a charge of felony hit and run driving arising out of a July 20, 2017 collision on Interstate 15 in Rancho Cucamonga.
Although it is widely recognized that the criminal charges leveled against Puckett precipitated his demise, the town is maintaining that the position he held is being eliminated “for financial reasons” effective as of this morning. No salary for the dual position Puckett held is being included in the budget for fiscal year 2018-2019, which begins on July 1.
The town sugarcoated the firing, nonetheless, conferring upon Puckett a severance package equal to six months pay and benefits, which totals $109,252 in monetary terms.
One of the reasons for not tying Puckett’s forced exit to the pending criminal case against him is to prevent him from taking legal action against the city in a wrongful termination suit, as Puckett has yet to go to trial on the charge, and he has entered a not guilty plea in the matter. Puckett has maintained that he left the scene of the accident because he was seeking a means to contact the Highway Patrol. He claims he did not have access to a cell phone after the accident.
The town has been brought into the matter in a way it had not anticipated. The motorist whose car was hit by Puckett’s vehicle, Lola Espinoza, suffered injuries in the accident, and she filed a claim against not only Puckett and his insurance company but the town as well. On December 12, a week after the criminal charges were filed against Puckett, the town council denied Espinoza’s claim. It is yet anticipated that the town will be named in a lawsuit to be filed by Espinoza’s lawyer on her behalf.
According to the town, Puckett’s departure and the severance package were mutually arrived at three days after Christmas. Puckett has reportedly signed an agreement with the town to hold it harmless for any issues relating to his leaving.
Puckett’s departure was the first major action following Doug Robertson moving into the position of town manager January 1. Robertson, who since 2011 was the city manager in Victorville, accepted the position of town manager with Apple Valley in November following a four-month long recruitment drive to replace former Apple Valley Town Manager Frank Robinson that was carried out by the headhunting firm of Ralph Andersen & Associates.
Puckett was previously considered indispensable to Apple Valley’s operations, given his command of the town’s financial affairs. In the last two years, he served as the point man on the town’s efforts to engage in what is essentially a hostile takeover of Liberty Utilities, which is the town’s water purveyor. That effort is seen as a yet-to-be-accomplished administrative tour-de-force, with legal and financial components. The town is pursuing the takeover through the court, and has not ruled out the use of the eminent domain process. Simultaneously, the town is looking to raise the necessary capital to effectuate a buyout of Liberty’s Apple Valley assets, which the town once hopefully sought to accomplish by putting up a mere $54 million. It is now apparent that the takeover will under the most realistic of scenarios cost at least $109 million and could escalate to as much as $150 million.