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Ousted public works director sues Livingston for wrongful termination

Livingston’s former public works director filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging that he was fired for questioning the city manager’s decisions that he believes put the City Council’s interests ahead of the residents.

Specifically, he asked City Manager Richard Warne why a water-pipe replacement project was modified to benefit some council members and why he was stalling politically-charged water rate hikes until after the election.

Former Public Works Director Paul Creighton’s lawsuit, filed Sept. 2, comes three months after City Manager Richard Warne abruptly fired him with the plan to take the city in a different direction.

It’s also two months before the November election, a contentious race that could radically change the face of the City Council. Four of the five seats are available, and five people are running against the four incumbents.Some residents have consistently criticized the council, and the lawsuit could further sway what voters think when they head to the polls.

Creighton, who was hired by Livingston in 2004, asks that jury force the city to pay him damages, back pay and give him his job back.

He alleges that his First and Fourteen Amendment rights, free speech and association, were violated when he was fired.Warne, who hadn’t seen the lawsuit, denied all the allegations, though he declined to get into many specifics.Creighton alleges that Warne consciously delayed bringing much-needed water increases to the City Council until after the upcoming election.

The rates haven’t increased since 1995, and the city has now lost more than a $1 million by running the system. It also has $20 million in upgrades planned, which will be funded by the higher rates.Higher proposed rates came to the council in January and were met with criticism from residents and Foster Farms, the city’s largest private water user. They went back to staff for review in January.

Revised hikes still have not gone to the City Council for approval. The last meeting was canceled because of a lack of agenda items. The council is scheduled to meet a few more times prior to Election Day.

Creighton’s lawsuit also alleges that Warne changed water pipe replacement plans that appeared to benefit current and former City Council members, while costing the taxpayers more. The lawsuit does not name the officials, and Creighton declined to identify them.

Also, according to the lawsuit, a well tested positive for coliform, a bacteria, in January and needed to be shutdown and replaced. The city couldn’t afford a new one unless rates increased.

“It’s critical that all the wells are online with no issues during the summer,” Creighton explained Tuesday.Warne denied the well was contaminated and noted that the city has an adequate number of wells and enough water pressure for the community’s needs. Another well went online in mid-August, he added.

The city’s latest test shows the well free from coliform.

A well did test positive for coliform in late May, Warne said, but it cleared the second test.

Creighton pressed the issue of the contaminated well in June, the lawsuit alleges, bringing his concerns to Mayor Pro Tem Bill Ingram and Councilman Rod Espinoza.

Days later, he was fired by Warne without much explanation. The lawsuit is scheduled for a conference in February.