Ben Shivar, Cary’s town manager, plans to retire this fall after leading the town since 2009, the town announced Wednesday.
Shivar, 63, started working for Cary 19 years ago and served as the assistant town manager from 1995 to 2009.
He’ll end a total of 39 years in municipal government on Sept. 30 to spend more time with his family.
“I feel like I’ve left the organization in a very good position,” Shivar said in a phone interview.
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He’s the second Cary official to announce retirement in recent weeks. Police Chief Pat Bazemore announced June 9 she’s retiring July 31 after 29 years with the town.
Town managers are comparable to corporate CEOs. They’re responsible for overseeing every function of the organization, hiring and firing employees and developing annual budgets – all while trying to appease elected officials.
Cary council members said Wednesday that residents owe Shivar a thank-you because he successfully navigated the town out of a recession without cutting services or raising property taxes that weren’t already approved by voters.
Shivar also led efforts to rejuvenate downtown Cary, expand the town’s water capacity and keep Cary as one of the best towns in which to live in the country, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.
“He’s been an integral part to all of that,” Weinbrecht said. “I can’t imagine we could have had anybody do a better job than Ben Shivar. We told him he’s going out on top.”
Shivar – pronounced “Shy-ver” – provided a calming presence in uncertain economic times because he was so thorough and resourceful, said Mayor Pro Tem Jack Smith, the longest-serving Cary council member.
“In one of the big economic downturns in history, when other towns had to cut services or raise taxes, he was very adept at running a tight ship,” Smith said. “He was very thorough in investigating things and making sure his recommendations for expenditures were well thought out.”
Shivar, a Charlotte native, maintained a conservative approach to staff expansion since 2009, even as the town grew and the economy improved.
When Shivar became town manager, Cary had 9.1 employees for every 1,000 residents. Even though the staff and population have grown, Shivar reduced the employee-to-resident ratio to 8.1 by 2015.
He kept the rate down in part by reorganizing Town Hall’s department structure in 2013.
In 2014, Shivar made Cary the first local government in North Carolina to adopt a financial strategy known as “priority based budgeting,” which is recognized by the International City/County Management Association’s Center for Management Strategies as the best practice for budgeting, said Karl Knapp, Cary’s budget director, an email.
As part of the strategy, each of the town’s 500 programs were evaluated in terms of how relevant they were to six overarching goals of the Town Council, Knapp said.
“This ranking process indicated that 77 percent of the hown’s fiscal year ’13-’14 budget was devoted to programs in the two highest priority tiers,” he said.
While Shivar has been conservative, he also has been proactive. He said he’s proudest of his efforts to rejuvenate downtown Cary and become a player in the state political scene.
In 2011, Shivar hired the town’s first full-time downtown manager, an $85,000 position dedicated solely to serving downtown Cary. Since then, the town has spent millions on public and private projects in downtown – investments some developers have cited as major factors in their decision to build there.
In 2013, he designated one of his assistants as a liaison to the N.C. General Assembly. Cary’s population is almost evenly divided between registered Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. Shivar said he made a point of having town officials carefully explain how some state legislation would affect residents or town operations.
The town opposed a decision to delay sweeping Jordan Lake cleanup efforts, legislation that eliminated privilege tax revenues and various other efforts by state lawmakers.
“I think we’ve certainly had a lot more visibility and a little more impact,” Shivar said. “We need to exert even greater leadership.”
Before coming to Cary, he was Chatham County manager for six years and town manager of Siler City for eight years. He began his career in Greenville, spending five years there as planner, director of Community Development and assistant to the manager.
Weinbrecht said in a news release that the council will work with the Human Resources Department to figure out next steps in replacing Shivar.