With new year comes new leadership at Downey City Hall

DOWNEY - With the Jan. 1 retirement of longtime Downey city manager Gerald Caton, whose 22 years of service sets the gold standard for longevity in these parts, a new city management team - just as prepared, just as eager, and just as dedicated, or so new city chief executive Gilbert A. Livas professes - begins its own rendezvous with destiny.For better or for worse, that destiny is intertwined with Downey's. Livas, whose anointment as city manager was witnessed by his "absolutely thrilled" parents before 2011 ended, is setting his sights high. He says that, in addition to a lean, efficient and nimble administrative team, he wants to emphasize its ethical component. "What good is running a municipal operation that is not grounded in good ethics?" he says. Livas' preparation for his new tasks as city manager has been long and thorough. His expertise in local government is said to have been gained from a series of top management employments in both the private and public sectors, on top of a BA from UCLA as well as a master's in public administration from Cal State Long Beach. He joined the city in 2007 as community development director and his tutelage included service as the assistant city manager the last two years. Livas' second in command is likewise his replacement as assistant city manager, John Oskoui, who will concurrently continue to serve as director of the public works department. He is also regarded as a proven and respected leader, who has put in time as the city's public works director since 2010. Oskoui holds a bachelor's in civil engineering from the University of North Carolina and a master's in structural engineering from Cal State Fullerton. Mayor Roger Brossmer observed: "We are extremely pleased to have Mr. Livas as our new city manager and feel that with his extensive background in public service, knowledge of our city's issues and priorities and his admirable work ethic, he will continue to lead our city in the right direction." Mayor pro tem David Gafin was effusive and optimistic as well with his congratulations: "Our city management has extensive experience in the public and private sectors and we are confident that under the direction of Mr. Livas and Mr. Oskoui, we will continue to accomplish many great things for our city." Under the new dispensation, assistant fire chief and fire marshal Mark Gillaspie will assume the duties of emergency preparedness operations chief vacated by Mark Sauter. The title, community services director, has been scratched. Its slot and functions have been taken over, however, by the re-created parks and recreation department under new director Arlene Salazar. Going where the action is, the department, which was headed by Thad Phillips who has also since retired, will be moved to in all likelihood Apollo Park, says Livas. In the meantime, Adria Jimenez was officially sanctioned as the new city clerk. She served briefly as consultant assisting interim city clerk Joyce Doyle. Additional duties have been given to assistant to the city manager, Shannon DeLong. She has been assigned to henceforth concurrently oversee the city's library operations as city librarian. For some time now she has shared public information activities with Juddy Ceniceros; she will also henceforth, with Ceniceros, handle the city's grant funding program. For Livas, the road to greatness starts with the installation of a 5-year budget forecasting program instead of the "usual 6-month forecasting variety." Forecasting will be based on reality, he said, "not rosy assumptions," adding, "We will try to be conservative, and we'll try to account for the uncertainties associated with the state's erratic projections. We have already started the ball rolling on this." In an effort to minimize bureaucratic red tape, and thus cut lag time in the planning and permitting process, he says plans are to make the first floor at City Hall as a one-stop center for, say, fire approval, engineering, planning, permitting, etc. "We have to realize that, for a first-timer, approaching the service desk could be intimidating," Livas says. "The person behind the counter may have performed the same service a hundred times, but to the visitor, it could be his first time." Livas says there will be another round of vision/goal evaluation and goal-setting to enable the city council and city staff to reach a consensus on priorities and projects. "We have to be smart about human and economic resource allocation in these difficult times," he said. "I'm lucky to work for a good city council," Livas said, "that wants to get things done. They may appear to quarrel among themselves, or at least have strong disagreements, but at the end they move on. This is a sign of maturity." He added: "I'm really excited about the future of the city. I see a place where people will want to continue to live, and aspire for the quality of life they can achieve. It's, in my opinion, still one of the shining stars in the region."

********** Published: January 12, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 39