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Beach city official resigns

The public works director who last week faced allegations of mismanagement and racist practices resigned Thursday, saying he could no longer work under such adversarial conditions.

In a resignation letter to City Manager Peter Lombardi, Ronnie E. Owen, who has worked for the city for 21{ years, said, "Due to the lack of confidence expressed by my subordinates, I now find it difficult to continue working for the city."

Employees, who alleged in a petition that Owen was a racist who had no regard for the safety of his employees or residents, were relieved upon hearing the news Thursday.

"It's delightful to see some positive results finally," said employee Jeff Moss, who brought forth the complaints on behalf of employees in the department. "Everybody is very elated, but we all feel that the city manager still needs to be held accountable for letting all this go on for so long."

A week ago, 30 of the department's 41 employees petitioned the City Commission for Owen's ouster, and the commission asked Lombardi to investigate the allegations.

Because the investigation was still under way, Lombardi said, he had no comment on Owen's resignation or his performance.

But Mayor Walter Stubbs said he was disturbed by the situation.

"It's a sad state of affairs when an employee of his caliber sees it is in his best interest to resign," Stubbs said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's unfortunate and I'm sorry to see him go."

In his letter, Owen said he hoped his resignation would help the city mend.

"It is my prayer that this might take some of the pressure off of the city administration and will allow harmony to once again be established between the administration and the employees," he said.

The employees' grievances came a few days after the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DER) ordered the city to stop disposing of sewage sludge in a sand pit that seeps into a canal and environmentally sensitive waters.

Public works employees were tired of that practice and informed DER about the seepage, saying they were concerned for the community's health and welfare.

In the petition, they said Owen had put employees, as well as residents, at risk because of the unsafe disposal practices.

But the crux of the petition was that Owen had grossly mismanaged his department and is a racist with a caustic style that includes favoritism and crude and unfitting comments.

Moss said employees also petitioned a few years ago, with the same sort of allegations, and all they got was an apology.

"Then a couple of weeks later, he was back to his old ways," Moss said.

When reached at home for comment on his resignation, Owen said it wasn't official yet and he wasn't sure what he was going to do.

But Lombardi announced the resignation to employees Thursday and Owen's resignation letter was dated Thursday.

Moss says he fears that because of the resignation, the investigation will go nowhere.

"Not one single employee has been asked a question yet," he said. "I think they're going to investigate just enough to cover their tracks. And with Owen gone, it'll take the heat off them."