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SLO County public works director quits suddenly after complaints from staff

San Luis Obispo County supervisors will consider approving a contract to hire Daniel “Colt” Esenwein as the new director of Public Works.
San Luis Obispo County supervisors will consider approving a contract to hire Daniel “Colt” Esenwein as the new director of Public Works. Courtesy of San Luis Obispo County

Just over a year into his new job, San Luis Obispo County’s public works director has resigned after staff raised concerns about his “actions and leadership style,” the county’s head administrator said Tuesday.

Daniel “Colt” Esenwein resigned May 5 after spending 17 days on paid administrative leave, county CAO Wade Horton confirmed Tuesday. Esenwein, whose total compensation topped $285,000, received $12,027 while on leave, Horton said.

Horton declined to elaborate on the complaints against Esenwein other than to say that the county launched an internal investigation after “concerns” were raised by staff, and Esenwein resigned shortly after.

Colt Esenwein.jpg
San Luis Obispo County supervisors will consider approving a contract to hire Daniel “Colt” Esenwein as the new director of Public Works. Courtesy of San Luis Obispo County

“Our community expects public servant leaders to model professionalism and treat others with respect,” Horton wrote in an email Tuesday. “We are dedicated to working together as a team to move forward and continue our good work for the people of San Luis Obispo County.”

Esenwein was hired in April 2018 with a $180,980-a-year contract; his most recent total annual compensation including benefits came to about $285,140, according to Horton. As director of public works, Esenwein oversaw about 280 full-time employees.

The county is processing a request by The Tribune for Esenwein’s resignation letter as well as any written complaints made against him.

Before coming to San Luis Obispo County, Esenwein was formerly the assistant director of public works in Santa Cruz County and had served as deputy director of public works for Stanislaus County.

He served in the Navy from 1990 to 1994, holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Cal Poly, and is a registered professional civil engineer.

Esenwein took over public works after former director Horton was promoted to chief administrative officer in November 2017.

At the time of the hire, then-chair of the county Board of Supervisors John Peschong said in a written statement that Esenwein had “a reputation as an innovator who takes action to make projects work,” and who “understands the need to build coalitions of support and balance competing interests.”

Horton said he has chosen to not immediately move forward with the recruitment process for a new director. One of the department’s three deputy directors, John Diodati, is currently acting as interim director.

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