Livingston city manager leaving

Ex-mayor sees move as part of new council's agenda.

November 1, 2010 

Richard Warne, Livingston City Manager

LOS BANOS ENTERPRISE

LIVINGSTON -- After two closed-session labor negotiations in October with "no reportable action," City Manager Richard Warne will soon be vacating his position.

Warne and the city came to a mutual agreement that he will go on administrative leave until Feb. 28 and separate from the city March 1, said Assistant City Manager Vickie Lewis.

Though Lewis described it as mutual, others think Warne was pushed out by the new council for political reasons.

On Aug. 31, former mayor Daniel Varela Sr. was recalled from office, along with former councilwoman Martha Nateras because of utility rate increases.

Varela thinks it was the new council's agenda to push Warne out of office -- nothing more than political fallout from the rate increases.

Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza and Theresa Land, a councilwoman, who won election in the recall vote, couldn't be reached for comment.

"It's a sad day for Livingston," Varela said. "This guy made a lot of changes in the community for the better. He had vision, and working with him was an incredible experience for me."

The purpose of the recall effort was to get rid of Warne, Varela said. "They needed the votes -- that's never been a hidden agenda from them," he said.

Grand jury reports have pointed out that City Council members have in the past tried to intimidate and micromanage city staff, but Warne stood up and tried to put a stop to it, Varela said. "That's the No. 1 reason why they don't want him there," he said.

Warne had the ability and the experience to correct the city's financial trouble, but personal politics got in the way of keeping the city financially sound, Varela added. "The city is running into bankruptcy right now and no one knows it," he said. "No one knows it."

Councilman Warren Urnberg didn't go into detail about why the separation agreement was made, but he did say it's time for the city "to move forward. It was a consensus of the council," he said.

No other members of the council could be reached for comment.

Warne, who's been with the city since Feb. 26, 2006, had an open-ended contract, Lewis said.

The agreement Warne made with the city to leave his post was signed by Warne on Friday, according to official sources close to the council.

According to the agreement, Warne gets paid for unused sick, vacation and administrative leave eight days after the signing of the agreement.

He will get regular pay and benefits through Feb. 28, sources said. On March 1, Warne will get paid eight months of salary and benefits in a lump sum. His health insurance will continue until Oct. 31, 2011.

The City Council hasn't given Lewis any information on who will serve in the interim after Warne is gone.

Warne declined to comment on the agreement, since the details were discussed confidentially in closed session.

Livingston has a long history of pushing out city managers because of political disagreements.

The last four city managers have been pressured out of the position, according to city records. That number jumps to five with Warne.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.

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