Employee leaves city after profane outburst

Letting Joseph Johnson go wasn’t easy for Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni.

Johnson, who started as Assistant Director of Parks and Beach Operations for the city, was the employee who dropped the f-bomb over his mic during Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting.

“F*** you, Peter,” Johnson said.  “The unfortunate thing is, he’s one of my strongest executives,” Zanoni told the Caller-Times on Wednesday. “He’s a real good leader … So it was his real poor judgment. He’s a big supporter as well of what we’re doing (as a) team. And it’s really out of character compared to everything he said, and has done his time with the city.”

“So it’s unfortunate for him because the options for discipline were limited.” The profanity also made it to the city’s live stream and was followed by a few seconds of awkward silence. After the comment, City Secretary Rebecca Huerta asked those attending virtually to mute their microphones.

Zanoni hired Johnson about a year ago. Johnson resigned Tuesday after the incident. He said he wasn’t really given a choice by Zanoni. The profanity wasn’t malicious and was an accident, Johnson said. He was attending the meeting virtually from home and didn’t know his mic was on.

Johnson said it was directed at the coronavirus pandemic. That’s what Zanoni was talking about during his city manager’s report when the profanity was said over the speaker system. ‘I’m sincerely embarrassed of my actions yesterday,” he told the Caller-Times on Wednesday. “And I’m ashamed of the embarrassment that I’ve caused to not only the mayor, council, Peter Zanoni, coworkers, friends, family, and organizations that I’m affiliated with.”

Johnson was at home instead of City Hall because he had recently been exposed to COVID-19. “I was pretty unhappy with COVID at the time,” he said. “If you listen to the video, Peter says, I want to talk about COVID, and that’s when I said it. It (wasn’t directed) at Peter, It was the topic of COVID. I’m tired of talking about it.”

“I’ve got the utmost respect for Peter Zanoni. I think he’s an incredible person. He’s the one who hired me, which makes this even more difficult.” Zanoni said that every city employee has to be accountable for his or her actions. “The discipline has to be commensurate with the actions,” he said. “I need to be able to hold people accountable. That was a problem with the city management before — is that (employees) weren’t held accountable, they weren’t held to standards.”

“I can’t control individual’s actions, all I can do is keep the organization professional for the integrity of the city.”

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