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Jacques LaRochelle is stepping down as director of Napa’s Public Works department after being on hiatus for four months, the city announced Thursday afternoon.

LaRochelle, 58, who has led the city agency since 2008, will retire effective Jan. 15 and receive his city pension, according to City Manager Steve Potter.

Eric Whan, the deputy public works director, will continue leading the department on an interim basis as he has since LaRochelle went on leave in September, Potter said.

Recruitment will soon begin to find a permanent replacement, he said. Base salary for the position ranges from $159,510 to $192,718 per year.

LaRochelle has been off duty since the city told staff members in an internal email Sept. 7 he was “away from the office” following a complaint an employee reportedly lodged against him for unknown reasons. The city later confirmed an inquiry involving LaRochelle, but gave no details.

A call to LaRochelle on Thursday was not returned. He is not expected to return to work in Napa before his retirement date, according to Potter.

The exit of LaRochelle was the third departure of a city department leader in 5 ½ weeks. Earlier, Jefferson Folks retired in July as Napa maintenance director after a mass email to city staff alleged a pattern of workplace bullying, intimidation and offensive remarks at the Jackson Street corporation yard he directed.

In September, Peter Pirnejad stepped down as assistant city manager after only seven months on the job, an exit Potter announced to staff members at the same time as LaRochelle’s hiatus. His newly created position had placed him in charge of key city projects including the four-story city hall and police station envisioned for downtown First Street – a project that is now being reexamined after opposition from city workers, the Napa police union and City Council candidates Mary Luros and Liz Alessio, both of whom won seats in the November election.

LaRochelle’s decade leading Napa public works, which followed a stint as assistant public works director in Bakersfield, began amid fiscal belt-tightening in the Great Recession and ended with city revenue rebounding on the strength of an increasingly tourist-driven economy.

Under his tenure, Napa began an annual campaign to repair and resurface 10 miles of streets to improve overall pavement conditions, which had sunk to one of the fifth-worst among Bay Area communities in 2008, a year before the program debuted, studies show.

“He was very solution-oriented; he would find innovative ways to get things done,” Potter said of the road-work campaign supported by LaRochelle. “… Being able to accomplish what he did in a recession was a significant feat.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.