WALNUT CREEK -- City Human Resources Director Sally Rice is resigning to take early retirement, just weeks after returning to work from a forced paid leave.

Rice, who has worked in the public sector for 17 years, was one of four employees at the center of a "mandated reporting" child abuse criminal and internal investigation that grew out of the firing of a former Lesher Center employee.

She and three other employees were put on leave for more than two months, until the city's internal investigation concluded. All four were ultimately brought back, with a fellow city employee finding they had done nothing wrong. Some City Council members disagreed with that finding.

Rice sent a letter to employees Thursday detailing her reasons for leaving and said her departure brings "deep sadness."

"It is probably not a surprise to anyone, given the state of affairs over the last 3½ months," she said in the letter. "I will state with conviction that I did not do anything wrong and I told the truth, but sometimes other factors come into play that I cannot control."

An independent investigative report conducted by outside counsel found that Rice was not credible in describing events surrounding the Lesher Center employee fired for alleged child abuse. That employee, Jason Pedroza, has since been arrested and charged. The report said that Rice intentionally withheld information from the Walnut Creek Police Department.

In her parting note, Rice applauded her fellow city workers.

"You are talented, dedicated to public service and you accomplish so much, every day; the public is lucky to have you," she wrote.

She declined to comment Friday beyond the contents of her letter.

Her last day of work will be Aug. 2. It was not clear as of Friday afternoon whether Rice is receiving a severance package. According to salary information provided to this newspaper, Rice's base pay for 2012 was $165,455.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.