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Documents allege former SLO Co. public works director ‘ruffled feathers,’ ‘favored young female employees’

Posted at 4:23 PM, May 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-21 19:29:10-04

New documents obtained by KSBY News detail allegations that may have led to the resignation of San Luis Obispo County Public Works Director Daniel “Colt” Esenwein earlier this month.

After a little more than a year on the job, Esenwein submitted his letter of resignation on May 5 to County Administrative Officer Wade Horton.

Without providing specifics, Horton told KSBY News two days later that the County had “looked into concerns raised by staff, and he (Esenwein) resigned shortly thereafter.”

Documents released by the County Tuesday following a Public Records Act request show employees within the Public Works Department felt Esenwein favored young female employees and his attitude was disruptive and hostile.

While much of the information in the 11 pages of documents released is redacted to protect the privacy and confidentiality of those involved, according to the county, what is shown details claims of a work environment that reportedly included cussing, yelling, and a style that upset staff and elevated them into defense mode.

“____ says ____ is worried people – good people – are going to leave because they are unhappy. ____ said people are borderline getting asked out on dates,” one report showed.

While it was not clear who wrote the report or when, other notes described Esenwein as “ruffling feathers.”

Part of the report said Esenwein was in a meeting “where he talked about ‘bending over and taking it,’ ‘grabbing your ankles’ and other sexual descriptors to emphasize how he does business.” Someone said they had “witnessed very brutal situations where staff gets “interrogated and humiliated.”

In an email dated April 10, 2019 with the subject “More Info About Colt,” bullet points for topics such as “Communication,” “Inappropriate,” “Morale” and “Leadership” were provided.

The writer claimed Esenwein “Talks out loud around office about who is likely going to get next job,” “Tells people they/we suck,” “Rarely visits field staff/doesn’t know names,” “He comes to meetings and sits on his phone. Then he calls people out for looking at their phone,” and is “Called creepy by most staff.”

The following day, April 11, an email titled “Re: New Event” was sent, however, it is not known what was said as every word in the body of the email sent at 10:51 a.m. was redacted.

Thirteen minutes later, in another email with the same title, all but 25 words were redacted. What is shown says, “We were talking about ____ __ ____ ___ _____ ____ that Colt completely ignored __ __ then said “but he was all over _______ flirting with ___ ____ ______. _ ____________________________________ replied “No __ hated it and was grossed out. _ __________________ __ _________________ __ ___________.”

Esenwein resigned less than a month later after spending 17 days on leave.

In an email dated May 6, Horton tells the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors he accepted Esenwein’s resignation that day and that “His actions and leadership style were not aligned with my expectations of a County Department Head.” Horton said he appreciated the “courage it took for staff to come forward and express concerns.”

Esenwein was reportedly paid $12,027 while on leave.

The former director’s annual salary in 2018 without benefits was $181,875 and with benefits was $285,140, according to Horton, who adds that Esenwein was not given a severance package.

The allegations in the documents represent one side of the story. KSBY has reached out to Esenwein for comment but has not yet received a response.

Prior to coming to San Luis Obispo County, Esenwein served as the assistant public works director for the County of Santa Cruz. SLO County officials said Esenwein brought more than 17 years of industry experience to the county and was a key member of SLO County’s leadership team.

Horton adds that he does not plan to initiate another recruitment right away. “At this point department stability is more important, so that the team can continue their good work for our community,” he said. “The path forward will be determined later.”

Deputy Director John Diodati is serving as interim Director for the department until further notice.

Daniel Esenwein
Daniel Esenwein