Merced County mental health director set to retire

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 30, 2013 

Merced County’s mental health director confirmed Monday he will retire on Friday after four years on the job.

Manuel Jimenez, who joined the county in 2009 after serving as a senior mental health services manager in Solano County, said Monday the decision was a difficult one, but was prompted by ongoing health problems and a desire to spend more time with his family.

"I’ve been toying with the idea for quite a while,” said Jimenez, 55. "I’m the last of my siblings to be working.”

As for his replacement, Jimenez said County Executive Officer Jim Brown will bring a recommendation for an interim director to the county Board of Supervisors – and it’s someone from the CEO’s office.

“Jim Brown is going to ask the Board of Supervisors if he can appoint Scott De Moss (assistant county executive officer) as interim director,” Jimenez said.

Brown could not be reached for comment Monday. Mike North, county management analyst, said the recommendation to appoint De Moss to the interim position will be brought to the Oct. 8 board meeting.

Although the Board of Supervisors has the option to approve or deny Brown’s recommendation, Jimenez said De Moss would be a good replacement because of his background working in mental health. “Scott used to work in mental health a few years back as a compliance officer,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez, a Merced native, said he had a minor heart attack in January. He then found out he was diabetic and had an irregular heartbeat.

After working in government for 24 years, Jimenez said he made the decision to retire more than a month ago, and is looking forward to more time with his grandchildren.

"I’ve got two great-grandkids, a 10-year-old and 3-year-old,” Jimenez said. “I don’t want to be their friend when they’re adults, I want to spend more time with them now.”

District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion called Jimenez “one of the best mental health directors” he’s worked with since being elected to the board in 1991.

O’Banion said Jimenez brought mental health services to the West Side of the county, especially Los Banos.

"He’s really done a good job of getting mental health out to the folks here on the West Side that a lot of times feel they are deprived,” O’Banion said. “I think he’s also done a good job of coordinating the mental health dollars to provide drug and alcohol treatment services.”

District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo agreed that Jimenez will be remembered for making a presence in unincorporated communities, such as El Nido and Planada.

“I hate to see him go; I think he was a good fit for Merced County,” Pedrozo said.“I know he was pretty involved in the unincorporated communities and with assisting in some of the needs that were missing in the past.”

District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, also chairman of the board, said Jimenez brought forward new solutions to county’s mental health department, especially through programs for homeless people with mental illnesses.

“He’s put together some permanent housing solutions for our mentally ill homeless, and has had success with achieving additional financing, so whoever steps in is really fortunate because it’s going to be in much better condition that when he first got here,” Kelsey said.

Jimenez said he’s proud of positive strides made during his tenure in the mental health department, including hiring 55 positions and having mental health counselors in 35 Merced County schools.

“We’ve done a lot of things for this county since I’ve been there,” Jimenez said. “But there’s still a lot to do in Merced regarding mental health, including more outreach to the Latino community and education for everyone.”

The director of mental health position was posted on the Merced County website Sept. 17, according to Dorothy Dunbar, human resources personnel technician. The position pays between $127,545.60 and $155,251.20 a year, according to the posting.

Dunbar said the county has started receiving applications for the job, which was also posted on the California State Association of Counties and California Mental Health Association websites.

The deadline for applications for this position is 5 p.m. Oct. 11, according to the Human Resources website.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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