Santa Ana City Manager Dave Ream retired Thursday after 32 years of service, ending months of speculation that the longest-tenured city manager in Orange County was ending his career.
Ream’s retirement is effective immediately, but he will continue to serve as an independent contractor through May 31 — at a maximum payout of $25,000 — as the city transitions to new leadership.
Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilman Carlos Bustamante praised Ream in a meeting with the media after a closed session of City Council, saying they wanted to celebrate his contributions to Santa Ana.
“He’s [Ream] been with the city for years, and there isn’t a corner of it that hasn’t felt his impact,” Pulido said.
Added Bustamante: “He’s a legend in this field.”
Ream could not be reached for comment.
The reasoning behind Ream’s abrupt departure remains unclear. Pulido said that the suddenness and terms of the decision came about because contemplating retirement can be difficult.
“It’s an awkward process,” Pulido said.
Pulido said he and Ream had been discussing the city manager’s possible retirement since October. Pulido said at that time he was asking Ream questions like “How are you feeling? What are you thinking?” To which Ream replied, “when it’s time, I’ll know it.”
Thursday, Pulido and Bustamante said Ream would not be taking a severance package, which, at minimum, would have been $524,544. He will, however, be cashing out his unused paid time off, which could be a large amount given that his contract allows him to collect unlimited vacation time.
Unused paid time off made up the majority of departed City Attorney Joe Fletcher’s payout. He cashed out $191,699 in unused paid time off in December.
Ream has never been concerned about setting up a big payday, Pulido and Bustamante said. In fact, Pulido said, Ream maxed out his CALpers accrual two years ago, so the financial incentive for Ream to stay on was minimal.
“He could have retired two years ago,” Pulido said. “If it’s all about money — which it’s not.”
Ream’s retirement also means there has been a major turnover of leadership in a matter of months, as Fletcher and Community Development Agency Director Cindy Nelson have also departed.
But Pulido did not acknowledge that it also meant a new direction for the city, saying “things happen in cycles.”
Ream has been with the city since 1978 and was appointed city manager in 1986. He also served as deputy city manager, director of community development and budget officer, according to the city’s website.