By all accounts, former city manager Jose Ramirez left the city of Livingston on Friday in better shape than he found it nearly four years ago.
Ramirez announced his resignation in December for personal reasons, but Friday was his last day on the job. A goodbye luncheon drew more than 50 people, all lining up to say farewell to Ramirez – a few shedding tears over his departure.
“It’s nostalgic because you get attached to people. It’s always difficult to say goodbye,” Ramirez said Friday. “But I didn’t say goodbye – I told everybody, ‘until later.’”
When Ramirez, 43, accepted the city manager job in Livingston, he already had an impressive résumé. He had more than 11 years of experience under his belt, including stops at Firebaugh and Orange Cove. Ramirez was one of California’s youngest city managers at age 28.
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But what he encountered in Livingston was more than a little challenging – a $6 million deficit, extreme water-contamination issues and a city divided over a recall election that ousted two elected officials.
Without much time to waste, Ramirez jumped right in. Nearly four years later, he leaves Livingston with a balanced budget, new filtering devices for several water wells and many new retail businesses. Eliminating the city’s deficit is the accomplishment Ramirez said he’s most proud of.
When asked what he’ll miss the most about Livingston, Ramirez didn’t hesitate, saying his employees. Judging from the number of employees who showed up at a City Council meeting last month to publicly say goodbye to their city manager, the feeling is mutual.
“I do feel really blessed the employees respected me and thought I was a fair person,” Ramirez said. “I told them I’m part of their team – I’m not higher or lower than them.” Ramirez demonstrated that by voluntarily taking a 6 percent pay cut this year after city employees had their salaries reduced.
Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra said Friday was a “sad day” for Livingston. It will be hard to replace Ramirez, he said, but the city will hire a recruitment organization to interview prospective candidates. While the City Council makes the final hiring decision, Samra said this method will “keep the process fair” and discourage favoritism.
Samra said Ramirez’s top accomplishments were resolving the city’s complex water issues, tackling the budget deficit and using his connections to secure funding for various city projects.
“He was very instrumental in getting us a lot of grants for upgrading the wells,” Samra said. “It didn’t matter if we were in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., he knew just about everybody everywhere. It’s going to be difficult to fill his shoes, but you have to make the best of it.”
The City Council last month appointed Odi Ortiz, the city’s assistant manager and finance director, to be interim city manager. Samra said Ramirez will be available a few more weeks to answer questions.
Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez credited Ramirez with reviving the Police Department’s explorer program and establishing a system to cite owners of loose dogs to promote responsible pet ownership.
The police chief said Ramirez’s relationships with people across the state were a valuable asset to Livingston. “His personality is very conducive with networking with businesses and the community,” he said. “I learned a lot from him, and we made a great team together. I will definitely miss his leadership.”
While he might be leaving Merced County, Ramirez’s future prospects look bright. He’ll continue to serve as the president of a company he founded in 2008 that imports distilled spirits from Mexico. Ramirez has also been recruited by various cities across California to work for them.
“Once different parts of the state found out I was a free agent, they called me and wanted to meet with me in the next week or two,” Ramirez said. “I’ll look at what’s best for my family and me.”