Phoenix Public Information Director David J. Ramirez May Have Been a Victim of His Own "Friend"; Plus, Councilman Sal DiCiccio May Be Gagging the City Attorney

It used to be that the people who worked in the city of Phoenix's public information office were friends — or at least acted like it.

"It was a family," says one employee. "Everybody went to lunch. Everybody went to each other's homes."

Not anymore. These days, the 12th floor is quiet. It's "business only," one employee tells me. "Everybody's afraid to say anything."

It's hard to blame anyone for clamming up, really. On October 2, the city demoted its acting public information director, David J. Ramirez. After a city investigator found "inappropriate interactions" between Ramirez and his staff, the 13-year veteran got a $25,000 pay cut, a transfer to Sky Harbor, and the public embarrassment of not one but three relatively lengthy stories in the Arizona Republic. D'oh!

To outsiders, the sordid details smacked of an out-of-control environment: Ramirez admitted to city investigators that he called a female subordinate "baby," that he joked about masturbation, that he discussed a male subordinate's sexual preferences. People wondered why the situation was allowed to fester for so long.

But to people who've worked with Ramirez, and even some members of the Spanish-language media, the questions are much different.

Namely, if no one complained about Ramirez's behavior for 13 years, why did it suddenly become an issue this autumn? And, more importantly, was Ramirez really out of control — or was he a wiseacre unfairly brought down by a subordinate who resented being told to work harder?

To the Spanish-speaking community, and even some Anglos, David Ramirez was the "face" of the city of Phoenix for more than a decade.

In 13 years with the city, the extroverted Ramirez rose to be deputy director of the city's public information office — earning a six-figure salary in the process. The bilingual former journalist seemed to be everywhere, from the city's public access television channel to Spanish-language radio broadcasts.

To reporters who needed information, Ramirez was a valued conduit: He'd get to questions fast and produce relevant documents even faster.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I've worked with Ramirez on stories for the past four years or so. We never socialized outside of work, but I always enjoyed his gregarious manner. (When I started working on this story, I thought that I could persuade him to talk, but he repeatedly declined comment.)

Here's what I can piece together, after talking to three city employees and a half-dozen Spanish-speaking journalists who know the parties involved.

On August 28, an aide to Mayor Phil Gordon, Gerardo Higginson, wrote to some of the PIO staff to tell them about a new Spanish-language television show. Ramirez replied, and for whatever reason, he hit "reply all."

"I am always impressed how you are so ahead of the game when it comes to the world of Spanish media," Ramirez wrote to Higginson, according to a copy of the exchange obtained by New Times. "I love the fact that you are not lazy, put in more than 35 hours of work a week and come to work on time and don't leave work early. I need you to come to one of my PIO staff meetings and review with my staff the importance of showing up to work on time and not leaving early."

The tone was clearly jocular; Ramirez ended the e-mail by saying that Higginson "reminded me of me . . . kicking ass and taking names later."

But Ramirez's jovial tone hardly concealed his bigger point. I'm told Ramirez, since becoming the department's acting director in June, had been riding the public information staff's liaison to the Spanish-language media, Alejandro Montiel, about his (alleged) short days in the office.

And Montiel took the bait. He sent Ramirez an e-mail that evening, saying that his "'public' e-mail," CC'd to so many staffers, "is not appreciated."

Montiel suggested holding a meeting to discuss any issues Ramirez had with his performance, then added, "during that meeting, we can address some of your unprofessional behavior . . . "

The next morning, another public information officer, a woman who's widely regarded in the office as Montiel's closest friend, filed the complaint against Ramirez that triggered the investigation. She alleged that he'd made inappropriate sexual and religious comments.

New Times is not naming the woman.

In a letter to the city, Ramirez noted that he considered both Montiel and the female complainant "part of my trusted 'inner circle.'" The female employee had stayed at his home while Ramirez and his wife were on vacation just one month earlier, Ramirez wrote.

"I had no idea that any of the issues that have surfaced in this investigation were problems to either of these employees or any employees in the department," Ramirez wrote. "In fact, much of the banter between me and [the female employee] has existed during the entirety of her five-plus years with the city.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske