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City’s two new department heads eager for challenge
• Dias is Finance Director, Slater hired as HR director
Dias and Slater
Leticia Dias is the city of Ceres' new Finance Director and Aaron Slater is the new Human Resources Director.

The city of Ceres has two new department heads following last week’s vote of the Ceres City Council.

The council voted 4-1 to appointment Leticia Dias as Finance Director and Aaron Slater as director of Human Resources.

Dias has served as acting Finance Director since the Oct. 6 resignation of Suzanne Dean.

Slater replaces Betina McCoy who also left in October.

Dias is no stranger to Ceres city operations, although she did leave to work for the city of Oakdale where she was accounting manager from April 2017 to April 2019. She was first hired by Ceres in August 1994 and remained over 22 years within the same department.

“I’m ready for the challenge,” said Dias.

Her appointment comes at a critical juncture with normal American life shut down due to the coronavirus, the transition of city management from Toby Wells to Tom Westbrook and moving to a new software program right before budget time.

“We started the budget process a month early because we are going through a software conversion,” said Dias. “We needed the month of June to finish up the first part of our software conversion so we can start the new year (July) in the new software. I’m glad we did start it a month early so we may have to use that extra month to finish it.”

She said some cities are thinking about running status quo operations without a new budget as the country waits to see what will happen with the spread of the virus and its effect on life.

“We’ve not looked into that option yet. We plan to have a budget.”

Dias said she is confident in the abilities of the interim city manager.

Dias earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration/Accounting from California State University, Stanislaus.

Slater attended the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University. For less than a year from 1999 to 2000 he worked as an international portfolio accountant with Barclays Capital. He worked nine months as a police dispatcher with Scottsdale Police Department and two years with the Napa Police Department. Slater spent nine months as a San Francisco Police officer and 10 years as a Newark Police officer from 2006 to 2017. He said the experience as treasurer and president of the Newark Police Association was invaluable in learning about labor relations and working with city management. He served two months as Human Resources technician with the city of Newark before Ceres hired him as its Human Resources analyst in January 2018. He was then promoted as the city’s interim Human Resources director in October.

“I really love H.R.,” said Slater who was hired with the prospects of being groomed to take over the department. “I’ve gotten a ton of great exposure with all the problem-solving opportunities we’ve had in Ceres. I like the problem-solving that has to do with the human interaction and what you can accomplish through relationship building, which is something I pride myself on.”

Slater is enrolled in the master’s degree program at Seattle University and flies up there every three weeks. Among the skills being taught are empathy and compassion tempered with accountability, consistency and ethnics and fairness.

“Organizational development is one of the pieces of Human Resources I’m really interested in; the process improvement and pay and benefits. I’m into the numbers type of stuff.”

The two appointments were met in controversy. Vice Mayor Linda Ryno voted against both selections. Ryno said while Dias was doing “a really good job as the deputy finance director” insisted the city needs a “knowledgeable, experienced” director to manage the city’s money. She wanted to see the city recruit someone with more experience. “She wasn’t given any responsibility greater than the accountant,” said Ryno. The four other members disagreed and voted to hire her.

Dias said that she did work a brief time working with Finance Director Dean from April to October. 

The department does not see a lot of employee turnover, said Dias, which adds to its stability.

Ryno also opposed Slater’s appointment, and said the job description calls for “five years of increasingly responsible human resources experience.” She said Slater did not meet that nor did he meet the educational requirement. In voting no she stated: “I understand again that there’s been comment that we should promote from within but I also think if we’re not meeting the job description that we have out there that I don’t think that’s fair to all the other employees that we have job descriptions but we aren’t necessarily going to follow them.”

After the vote Slater suggested that he didn’t have any conversation with Ryno about his background. He explained that his accounting degree is actually a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

“Some of it is a misunderstanding,” said Slater.

The council voted 4-1 to appoint Slater.