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Wasden: The first 30 days

New City Manager looks forward and back

Wasden: The first 30 days

Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden is hard at work one month into his new job.


POSTED July 21, 2009 11:15 p.m.
Looking back at his first month as Turlock City Manager — which officially passed on Monday — Roy Wasden can characterize his experience thus far in just one word.
Busy.
“It’s been a whirlwind, I tell you,” Wasden said. “It’s gone by really, really quickly.”
In constant meetings, frequently pulling 12-hour days, Wasden has seen his first month in office simply fly by as he came up to speed on the myriad issues facing the City of Turlock, ranging from the Carnegie Arts Center to local business.
At first, the former Modesto Chief of Police felt like he might miss law enforcement, a field he has made a career of for 23 years, but he says he’s enjoyed learning about the different aspects of city government.
He reads through stacks of documents — “Things I thought I would not find interesting,” he says — learning arcane facts about zoning and municipal codes. He sits at his table for hours a day with staff, soaking up all the information he believes he needs to be a great city manager — hopefully for the next five, 10, or more years.
While a month’s worth of studying may seem unappealing to some, Wasden has enjoyed the experience.
“None of it’s been unpleasant,” Wasden said. “It’s just a lot of work.”
He credits Interim City Manager Gary Hampton and the knowledgeable, skilled City of Turlock staff, who he calls, “wonderful, dedicated people,” for easing his transition into office. But that’s not to say the transition has been easy.
Thrust into office in the midst of Turlock’s budget cycle, during one of the worst financial years on record for the city, Wasden stepped into what many — including our own Journal editor — have termed one of the most unenviable jobs available. Facing massive layoffs and a divided council, city morale was low, but Wasden has seen a great strength among the remaining employees.
“It’s almost a time of mourning at the reductions we’ve had to make,” Wasden said.
“At the same time, I see everywhere this dedication. We are going to get the job done.”
As for the council, Wasden believes they all “really want what’s best for the community.” The oft-publicized disagreements and blow-ups he chalks up to slightly different visions about how best to achieve a common goal — making Turlock as great as it can be.
The eternal optimist, Wasden sees opportunity in these troubled times. He sees a chance for the city to rise above, to make the best of things to put itself in a great position when the economy rebounds.
“I always think things are always going to work out, and you know what, they do,” Wasden said. “It’s up to us to find ways to make them work out.”
Wasden is impressed that property tax revenues in Turlock haven’t gone down as much as once anticipated, only a 3 percent drop when an 8 percent fall was forecasted. He takes solace in the news that the market is seeing a stabilization in the value of property.
“I don’t think that we’re done,” he warns. “I think we’re seeing some very positive signs.”
Looking forward, Wasden sees a few critical things that the City of Turlock must do, immediately, to ensure its future success.
“We’ve got to find a way to encourage the rebirth of our downtown,” Wasden said. “… Our downtown is beautiful, it really is nice.”
Wasden puts a huge emphasis on bringing new business to Turlock, and not just in the vacant downtown storefronts, but also in car dealerships that are just awaiting dealers and, of course, the Westside Industrial Specific Plan industrial park.
“The WISP is ready,” Wasden said. “Come. You can site a business here. It will be far less expensive than other locations.”
U.S. Cold Storage, a new tenant of the WISP, was simply amazed at how quickly they were able to get up and running, according to Wasden. The location, cost, and speed of development is a thing that Wasden sees a need to market, especially at a time such as this when land and labor are relatively inexpensive.
“I think a lot of businesses are going to see this is really the time to invest,” Wasden said. “It’s a time when even though (the city is) short staffed, struggling, this is a time where a little extra effort will yield, I think, a huge benefit.”
Other areas are deserving of focus too, according to Wasden, including developing the city’s relationship with California State University, Stanislaus. He believes the university offers a ready, skilled workforce for the community, if only the jobs were here to support graduates in rapidly growing fields like energy and bioengineering.
“Those technologies are going to emerge,” Wasden said. “Why not here?”
“I think the future is really bright,” Wasden said. “Yes, we’re in difficult times right now, but as we look ahead we can really see… We are positioned well to create our own destiny.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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