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Pay-check your facts, Wasden doubters

POSTED June 27, 2009 2:23 p.m.
Let’s get this out of the way right at the start.
Yes, new Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden will be making just over $202,000 in base salary during his first year on the job. Ignoring taxes and required benefit contributions, that’s enough for Wasden to purchase a beautiful new 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 1,500 square foot cul-de-sac home in Turlock with just one year of pay.
Yes, Wasden will be receiving a $500 a month automobile allowance in addition to his salary – enough to lease a Mercedes Benz GLK350, an Infinity M35, or a Porsche Cayenne. And, yes, any one of those cars would be fantastic to take on a cross-country road trip during Wasden’s four weeks of paid vacation or two weeks of “cough, cough,” sick leave.
By almost anyone’s definition of the word, Wasden will make a tremendous amount of money in his new post. And yet Wasden will walk in the front door of Turlock City Hall never having served as city manager for any other town, anywhere.
I can understand why people are upset about this arrangement. The countless reasons become painfully clear as I sort through the scores of e-mails and voicemails I field each day about this employment agreement.
I’ll admit that it seems a little ridiculous at first blush to be granting such a lucrative contract to our new city manager considering his resume reads, “Modesto Police Chief” with no mention of “City Manager” to be found. But I can see where the city council is coming from.
Turlock Police Chief Gary Hampton has done an exemplary job as interim city manager. The logic seems to follow that Wasden will do just as well as he transitions to the role of city manager, combining his experience in running a large public organization with the no-nonsense knowhow of a former police officer, something which could be crucial in uniting councilmembers that – by many accounts – refuse to share the same room except when required by business.
Is Wasden going to be making an annual salary larger than most Americans will ever take home in a year? Certainly.
But Wasden is going to be managing the entire City of Turlock, an organization with a $30.3 million General Fund budget and a total budget of $161.6 million. Wasden’s salary will total just less than seven-tenths of 1 percent of the General Fund budget, or just over one-tenth of 1 percent of the total city budget.
I’m sure that if Wasden were offered employment as chief executive officer of a $150 million company, his paycheck would be much higher than $200,000.
Still, many find it just a little bit ridiculous that Wasden is getting paid so much at a time when almost 17 percent of Stanislaus County residents have no job at all. Others find it odd to think that the base salary of the Turlock City Manager is seeing an increase just as 23 city employees are receiving news that their jobs are soon to be cut.
Well, sure, it seems a little unfair to those of us who are struggling just to get by, but no organization can survive without someone at the top.
Tim Kerr, the previous city manager, made about $184,000 per year. Believe it or not, that figure ends up in the same ballpark as Wasden’s salary when one considers that the new city manager will forego guaranteed raises and management leave, and will contribute 5 percent of his salary back towards his own benefits.
Wasden’s council approved salary may be at the high-end range of the advertised base salary range for the position – $167,256 to $203,316 – but it’s only $35,000 more than the bare minimum, an inconsequential amount in a $161 million budget. Even if Wasden’s pay were to be $35,000 less it would save, at most, a single entry-level job in the current budget cycle.
As painful as it is for those employees low at the totem pole, having the right person for the job at the top is far more important for the long-term success of the city than one office assistant, or $35,000 worth of miscellaneous trees, pavement, or office goods.
Mayor John Lazar said that he thought Wasden was the, “perfect fit for this position.” Councilman Kurt Spycher described Wasden as, “the top candidate.”
The council clearly saw Wasden as crucial to the future of Turlock. Yes, firing Kerr and hiring Wasden was a very expensive decision, to be sure, but the council made the right move here in going out and getting the person they saw as the best individual for the job, despite the cost.
Considering the million dollar problems facing the City of Turlock, a few hundred thousand dollars seems like a cheap price to potentially save your city.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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