[Moab Sun News file photo]

Two longtime city employees are parting ways with the City of Moab, albeit for different reasons.

Moab City Police Chief Mike Navarre is planning to retire from the job he’s held since 2000, while former Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission Director Tara Penner resigned last week, following a dispute with city administrators.

Neither Navarre nor Penner could be reached for comment by press time.

Moab City Council member Kalen Jones said he is aware of Penner’s resignation, but he told the Moab Sun News that no one formally notified the council about Navarre’s decision to retire.

“It was not discussed at (the Tuesday, May 24, council) meeting, and to the best of my knowledge – other than the vague possibility of it happening in the future – it hasn’t been mentioned,” he said.

Jones said the subject came up during a casual conversation he had with someone last weekend.

“I knew that (Navarre) was nearing retirement, so I didn’t really know if this was him musing about his retirement this coming year, or whether he was giving his notice this week,” he said.

A police department employee confirmed that Navarre is getting ready to retire, but Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison said he is not aware that Navarre is preparing to step down.

“I haven’t heard a word about it,” the mayor said.

Navarre joined the city’s police department in 1988, and after a brief stint as acting chief, he was appointed chief in June 2000, replacing former Chief Alan West.

Penner, who grew up working in the film industry, headed the film commission for the past nine years.

In a public message to her Facebook friends, she said that the city forcibly placed her on an unpaid leave of absence on April 8 due to her health-related problems.

“I tried to do everything I could to get my job back, but got nowhere with the City,” she wrote. “I finally decided to resign, because that hostile environment was only making my medical condition worse, and there was no way I could return to work.”

Many of Penner’s friends and former co-workers responded to the news by praising her for her professionalism and dedication over the years, while criticizing city administrators for the way they handled the matter.

Jones, in response, said that council members cannot discuss Penner’s resignation, since it would be a violation of the city’s human resource policies to do so.

“We have been briefed on it, and there’s more than we can say because it is a personnel matter,” he said.

However, on the broader subject of personnel-related issues, Jones asked Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson to give the council more specific updates regarding the city administration’s efforts to hire new employees, and city department heads in particular.

“I don’t want positions to be open for too long,” he told the Moab Sun News. “Turnover is natural, but if there’s too much of a delay in filling positions – especially supervisory positions – that can make for a lack of continuity and a reduced capacity to work with.”

Jones’ request comes in the wake of former Moab City Public Works Director Jeff Foster’s February departure from the city. The council recently voted to split the public works director’s post into two separate positions, although the city has not filled either one of those positions yet.

Davidson told the council this week that she believes she’s already keeping the council in the loop about hiring decisions, adding that she “isn’t sure” that she understands Jones’ intentions.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Hey we have these positions,’ and I think the thing you’re forgetting about with the public works director is, we had to get council approval to even split those positions, which just happened about, I think, two weeks ago,” she said.

As for the few positions that are vacant, Davidson said she thinks the city is actively moving to fill them.

“There’s not that many that’s been open,” she said. “I think we’re fully filled in public works, except for the two leadership positions. We’re fully filled in every other position, except for the police; we’re working (on) that.”

Jones called the discussion a substantive one, and said he thinks that Davidson heard his concerns.

“Whether or not that translates into more proactive reporting in terms of what’s going on with filling positions – either by employment or (by hiring) consultants – remains to be seen,” he said.

City council addresses need for public outreach

While the departure of city department heads like Foster has made headlines since last fall, Jones and other city officials said they want to let residents know about lesser-known activities and projects that city employees are working on.

“Part of what we want to get out there is that there are good things happening at the city, and there are employees who are happy and have good experiences with the new city administration,” he said.

With additional support from the city’s administration, he said, morale at the police department is up.

“It seems that may be an area where training and support is paying dividends,” Jones said.

Moab City Parks, Recreation and Trails Director Tif Miller is also making strides within his department, Jones said, noting that upgrades to the Center Street Gym are in the works.

“It seems like a lot of productive things are happening there,” he said. “My impression is that Tif is really looking at improving the programs (we) offer.”

The city is also planning to budget for substantial improvements to the Moab Arts and Recreation Center (MARC), he said.

In the past, Davidson has written sporadic blog posts about city projects. Moving forward, she said, the city will publish a four-page quarterly newsletter that will also be available electronically.

Moab City Council member Kyle Bailey said that department heads are key to a successful communications strategy. He suggested that they could write a few paragraphs about a particular topic of interest and then post them on the city’s blog or website.

As for his own family’s most recent outreach efforts, they did not turn out the way they hoped they would.

“My wife went out this week and invited 800 people on a Facebook page to come to this meeting, and you can see how successful that was,” he said, noting that the council chambers in front of him were all but empty. “I’m just saying that communication is tough.”

In anticipation of higher turnout at the meeting, Jones said that Moab City Recorder Rachel Stenta made more copies than usual of handout materials.

Yet attendance at a public hearing on the city’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year was sparse. Representatives from Moab Regional Hospital and Four Corners Community Behavioral Health made a follow-up request for $10,000 in city funding to help pay for a community-level substance abuse prevention worker.

“That was about the extent of the public participation in the public hearing,” Jones said.

If citizens are concerned about a particular issue, or they want a more complete picture of what happens at city meetings, Jones encourages them to join him.

“The experience of going to a meeting is different than reading about it in the paper,” he said. “There’s more than (newspapers) can report on, and there’s nuance that doesn’t come through in the printed word.

“It might allay their concerns,” he added. “Or, if they want to take more of an activist role, they’ll be better informed to do that.”

Stenta said that council members often give detailed reports toward the end of each meeting, yet she noted that the council chambers are largely empty by that time.

“Unless you’re at the meeting or you (read) the minutes, the outside community never gets to hear that,” she said.

Sakrison told the Moab Sun News that he expects the city to ramp up its public outreach efforts.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more press releases from us,” he said.

I knew that (Navarre) was nearing retirement, so I didn’t really know if this was him musing about his retirement this coming year, or whether he was giving his notice this week.

Council members seek to improve public communication