NewsCovering Kern County


'It was my obligation,' City Council member reports sexual misconduct surrounding Wooner

Posted at 6:32 PM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-29 21:32:43-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — In May, McFarland City Council Member Rafael Melendez filed a sexual misconduct allegation surrounding former McFarland City Manager, John Wooner, 23ABC has learned.

In an exclusive interview with 23ABC, Melendez said he was obligated to report the allegation as a council member and he wasn’t trying to create a hostile work environment for Wooner.

On May 14 Wooner was reported missing to police by his wife Jennifer Wooner.

“We know that he was last seen on Tuesday evening at about 5:30 in the area of Hillcrest Cemetery,” Bakersfield Police Public Information Officer Nathan McCauley stated back in May.

Documents released Thursday by the Bakersfield Police Department show before Wooner went to the cemetery he spoke with his wife to locate his fathers grave-site.

Wooner’s wife told police it was “odd due to the fact his father died of suicide 16 years ago and John Wooner has not been to his grave since the funeral."

Two months and 14 days after Wooner’s disappearance 57-year-old Wooner and his work SUV, a Dodge Durango, turned up in the Kern River.

“We positively identified this vehicle as the missing 2012 Dodge Durango that is currently registered to the city of McFarland,” California Highway Patrol Public Information Office Robert Rodriguez stated in July of this year after the car was discovered.

Police confirmed Wooner’s car went off the roadway and tumbled down and embankment into the river, but Wooner’s official cause of death has not been released.

Documents show Wooner’s wife also told police that five days before he went missing he was having some work issues and was made aware of possible sexual misconduct allegations brought against him and that it was causing him stress.

Documents also show McFarland Mayor Manuel Cantu reportedly told police Wooner requested Cantu to stop the investigations against him, and he was upset when Cantu told him he could not stop the investigation.

“As a city council member, it’s my obligation that any time an employee brings this kind of allegations to me I have to report that,” McFarland City Council Member Rafael Melendez said.

Melendez said a third-party told him the alleged sexual misconduct took place between Wooner and a current female employee in May. Melendez also confirmed that he reported it to city officials about ten days prior to Wooner’s disappearance.

Documents show Melendez told police the whole office knew about it and that it didn’t go anywhere.

“I reported it to protocol you know the attorney’s, the chief of police, those that are authorized to handle these types of situations,” Melendez said.

23ABC News reached out to the McFarland Police Department to see if there are any pending sexual misconduct investigations into Wooner and they have yet to respond.

Documents show Mayor Cantu told police Wooner was also planning to sue the city of McFarland regarding a, "hostile work place" with Melendez, and he feared Wooner may harm himself due to the stress of the situation.

“That’s not my intent at all," Melendez said. "My intent is only to ask questions when I don’t have a satisfactory answer."

Cantu told police Wooner was also upset that there was a deficit within the city budget of around $180,000 and Melendez said he questioned the budget shortfall.

“I asked questions of the budget, on this case it was a shortfall," Melendez explained. "I asked the question why, I am obligated to ask it, I represent the community."

Documents said Cantu also told police in June an outside agency was set to conduct an audit on the city’s budget.

“Well we just passed the budget last week and we agreed it was a balanced budget,” Melendez said.

According to documents, Cantu also told police Wooner asked Cantu to fire him, so he did not have to deal with any more negative attention from Melendez.

“I don’t attend to create a hostile work environment but I do expect an answer,” Melendez said.

Melendez said all communication surrounding the McFarland budget was shared in a public meeting.

We reached out to Mayor Manuel Cantu and he said he could not comment on the police report.

23ABC News also requested a copy of the audit conducted on the cities budget by an outside agency and we are still waiting for them to be released.