After four layoffs, Livingston hires public works chief

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 4, 2012 

LIVINGSTON -- Just a couple weeks after approving four controversial layoffs, the City Council approved the hiring of a public works director and plans to maneuver around other empty spots.

The three-year employment agreement with Humberto Molina calls for an annual base salary of $86,340 and has a benefits package consistent with other management positions, according to a staff report. The item was passed on a 4-0 vote. Councilman Frank Vierra was absent.

Livingston leaders think hiring Molina will generate some cost-savings and improved efficiencies.

Molina, 50, will oversee the water department, streets, parks, special landscaping district areas, the wastewater department and possibly handle other tasks as well.

The hiring comes after four August layoffs that included Street Supervisor Jim Rightsell, Community Development Director Donna Kenney, Public Service Officer John Mucci and Police Public Assistant Nora Becerra.

City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez said Tuesday's hiring was a good move by the city, which will soon stop contracting out for wastewater services and will do the work in-house. More wastewater employees would have to be hired before that's possible.

Ramirez described Molina's role as "all-encompassing" and part of a larger plan to save money and consolidate services.

Molina's hiring is completely separate from the recent layoffs, Ramirez said. Molina's pay will come from several areas, including the general, water, wastewater, sanitation, gas tax and special district funds.

There were three other candidates vying for the role of public works director, but none of them were qualified, Ramirez said. However, Molina had the necessary certificates and came highly recommended.

Molina said he has more than 20 years of experience in public works, and spent most of that time in management positions. His employment experience in public works comes from the city of Merced, Los Banos, Tulare, Half Moon Bay and Vallejo.

More efforts are being made by the city to smooth out the looming effects of the other layoffs at the Livingston Police Department.

Mucci, who handles evidence for the department, and Becerra, who offers assistance to the public, will soon have to vacate their positions.

Several residents have spoken out against the layoffs, arguing that the lack of a trained evidence technician would result in potentially compromising mistakes with crime-scene evidence and the loss of an assistant would put more demand on dispatchers who are already busy fielding calls for service.

But Police Chief Ruben Chavez said there are several options to address those areas, but he needs to continue discussions with the union to put a plan into effect.

One plan is to train additional staffers to handle Mucci's duties and transition Becerra's responsibilities to other employees.

Besides the Police Department, the city's Community Development Department will also take a hit with the loss of Kenney. The city plans to contract out Kenney's community development duties.

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

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