From: Ventura County Star
By: Kathleen Wilson, 07/02/2019
A former investigations commander in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office won his job back under a merit panel’s decision Thursday to overturn his firing for alleged dishonesty 14 months ago.
The Ventura County Civil Service Commission found that Tracy Towner should be reinstated to the $174,000-a-year job after deliberating for close to an hour in a closed-door meeting in Ventura.
“He feels vindicated,” said his attorney, Bill Hadden.
The commission ordered the 20-year county employee to be reinstated with full back pay and benefits, Hadden said.
The commission could not divulge Thursday’s ruling under a 2006 California Supreme Court decision that provides privacy rights for personnel hearings involving law enforcement officers. But Towner as the appellant could and did so Thursday afternoon through Hadden.
Towner was accused of giving dishonest testimony by top officials in the DA’s Office, but denied the allegations. Hadden said none of the allegations against Towner were sustained.
“He was looking to be exonerated,” he said. “His good name was at stake.”
Towner, 56, claimed he had been fired for telling the truth about three officers he indicated had collaborated to cheat an employee out of a promotion. DA officials claimed his testimony was dishonest and merited dismissal.
A hearing panel consisting of Commissioners Alyse Lazar, Don Becker, James Vandenberg and Patricia Parham voted unanimously to grant the appeal.
Court documents show the dismissal was based on testimony Towner gave at an appeals hearing for investigator Kimberly Michael before the Ventura County Civil Service Commission in 2017. Michael, who was a friend of Towner, claimed she was unfairly treated in the process for a promotion the previous year.
Towner testified about conversations he said he had with other officers in the DA’s investigations unit around 2014, when Michael lost out on another promotion.
Towner suggested that two officers in the unit – Thomas Mendez and Ken Valentini – collaborated to give Michael a low examination score for that promotion. He also said the head of the unit, Mike Baray, knew about it.
All three men denied the allegations and a consultant for the DA’s Office cleared them. But the same commission found Towner was credible.
County Executive Officer Mike Powers, County Counsel Leroy Smith and District Attorney Greg Totten could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Chuck Hughes said the office was referring calls to the private attorney representing the county in the commission deliberations because of pending litigation.
It is not clear yet whether the county will seek a court order to overturn the commission’s decision. But the local government has already questioned whether the commission should have heard Towner’s appeal given its earlier decision finding his testimony credible.
The decision may also mean that Towner will be reinstated to his position as an alternate member and chairman of the board overseeing a $5 billion pension plan covering county employees. He could not serve after being terminated because he was no longer a county employee.
Retirement Administrator Linda Webb said she did not expect Towner to rejoin the board until the commission issues a written ruling on its decision.