John Wooner

John Wooner

A host of personal and professional stresses were swirling around the life of former McFarland City Manager John Wooner before he disappeared in mid-May, only to be found dead late last month in the Kern River Canyon, according to a police investigation report made public Aug. 29.

The document, a summary of interviews the Bakersfield Police Department conducted as part of a now-closed missing-person investigation, suggests Wooner was worried about being formally accused of sexual misconduct by former city employees.

It also shows he was looking for a new job amid a municipal budget shortfall and scrutiny by a city councilman Wooner thought was out to get him.

BPD detectives on the case appear to have turned up no evidence Wooner was intent on killing himself, though they asked many people who knew him whether he had expressed an intention to do so. People including a man described as his best friend in Bakersfield told police Wooner did not seem to be acting abnormally.

But several individuals told police Wooner was under pressure from various sources, and that his work situation had become so difficult that he at one point asked the city's mayor to fire him.

The report shows suspicions of sexual misconduct appear to have weighed particularly heavily on Wooner.

It says City Councilman Rafael Melendez, who the late city manager apparently considered a political enemy, told a police investigator everyone in Wooner's office knew about an incident involving a former city employee.

Mayor Manuel Cantu told police Wooner became upset when told nothing could be done to protect him from Melendez's efforts to have different agencies investigate the allegations. Cantu said Wooner was surprised to learn the misconduct allegations were raised not by one former female city worker but by a different former female employee.

The mayor also said Wooner told him he was planning to file a lawsuit against the city accusing Melendez of creating a hostile workplace.

"Cantu stated he fears the pressure became too great on Wooner, and he possibly harmed himself over the stress," the report states.

Cantu and Melendez could not be reached for comment Aug. 29.

The sexual misconduct allegations do not appear to have been raised formally and BPD detectives did not speak with anyone who claimed to have witnessed Wooner acting inappropriately toward a city worker.

Wooner also shared worries about his job that were unrelated to accusations of sexual impropriety. Cantu said Wooner was upset the city faced a $180,000 budget deficit, which the mayor attributed to wage increases.

A police examination of Wooner's email records found evidence he was looking for another job outside McFarland. It also discovered correspondence with a law firm showing he was looking for legal counseling about his job situation.

The man described as Wooner's best friend, Donald Godley, told police he was unhappy with his job and often complained about the City of McFarland. But he went on to say nothing seemed out of the ordinary at the time of Wooner's disappearance and that the former city manager "has been unhappy with his occupation for an extended time."

Godley also told a BPD detective Wooner often talked about the TV show "The Great Chase," noting specifically how a viewer could learn a lot about how to avoid being tracked. Godley said he could envision Wooner going to Mexico to "get away from it all," even though Godley said he couldn't see why his friend would want to leave the country.

In late July, the city-owned Dodge Durango Wooner was seen driving the day he went missing was pulled from the Kern River. The Kern County Sheriff's Office later said Wooner was not wearing a seat belt.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.