Holloway blames critics for Ponek departure

After members of the Ridgecrest City Council bid farewell last week to Jim Ponek, who had led the Parks and Recreation Department since 2000, Mayor Pro Tem Chip Holloway lashed out at critics who he said forced the staffer into resigning.

Ponek’s job performance had been under scrutiny since the city first began budget scoping sessions last spring. Several members of the council, including Holloway, raised criticisms that included Ponek’s continued practice of cutting revenue-generating programs and relying on projections that never materialized.

Members of the public also complained about the poorly maintained fields and facilities, as well as Ponek’s refusal to allow volunteers to offset costs to the city by performing some of the work themselves.

Holloway defended Ponek last week, saying the staffer was forced out of the community.

“Some of the gutless, spineless people who were behind that didn’t have the nerve to sit in these seats tonight,” said Holloway. “And shame on you! But I will remember, and you will not get away with it. And you know who you are.”

Holloway said that Ponek’s family was embarrassed by the criticism from the community. “You attack us all the time and you never think about the families. You run off like little terrorists and giggle about what you did but you don’t know what the longterm effects are. That’s not how you rebuild the community.”

Holloway said he believed Ponek had made mistakes over the last 24 months, “but they were not all his fault. He was reacting to situations that were forced on him.”

He said that people wanted Ponek gone because of personal vendettas, “but at the end of the day it’s a tragedy for the city to lose Mr. Ponek and for him to go out like this. I’m jealous as hell. I would kill to go to Panama City, Fla. I hope he does well.”

“Over my years of service to this community, I have never met anyone as dedicated as Jim Ponek to what he does,” said Mayor Dan Clark. He said he believed cuts to city funding made Ponek’s job difficult.

“I am a fan of Jim Ponek. I will consider him a friend for the rest of my life. If I’m lucky, I will find someone half as good as Jim to take his job over in the future.”

Ponek said he had enjoyed his time at the city and the great friends he had made on various councils. He also praised his staff as the best in the world.

Addressing the audience, he said “There were times I’ve beat you up out there, then you beat me up here. But at least I beat you behind the scenes.”

He said he wished success to Ridgecrest in the future.

Members of the council have been discussing the scope of the parks and recreation director position since the 2012 budget sessions, when former City Manager Kurt Wilson first recommended eliminating the position in favor of a recreation coordinator. In that scenario, maintenance responsibilities would be shifted to the Public Works Department, and a lower-paid staffer hired to run programs. That would save the city approximately $100,000, according to staff reports.

City Manager Dennis Speer said that given the city’s current inability to continue funding that position, the city would be moving forward on that path. He anticipated appointing an existing employee to perform that role in the interim until the city can recruit a permanent recreation supervisor or recreation coordinator.

Story First Published: 2013-08-14