Interview with New City Manager After First Week and Council Meeting

After a week on the job as the new City Manager, Roy Wasden is still confirming why the Turlock City Council chose him to be the leader of our government organization.

 

Initial interviews and quotes showed Roy Wasden to be a very honest, common sense, and straightforward kind of guy. After quotes from Wasden, like “I have a lot to learn” once he was hired as one of the highest paid city managers in the area, one can see a multitude of things. A person could get from Wasden’s statements that he speaks from his heart, is not focused on being politically correct, is secure, and is very philosophical. The quote admitting he has a lot to learn could be paralleled with the proverb “The wise man knows he knows nothing, the fool thinks he knows all.”

 

TurlockCityNews.com wanted to get Roy Wasden’s thoughts after being on the job for a week and sitting in on his first Turlock City Council Meeting as City Manager.

 

Of course the controversial potential Council investigation and Carnegie Arts Center funding were referenced throughout the Q&A. Both issues were expected to have very different outcomes (very negative ones) compared to what ended up taking place. Did the Turlock City Council come to a truths agreement to put the potential investigation to rest for our new Turlock City Manager’s sake? Did the Carnegie project get funding set aside because Roy Wasden supports the arts personally? We don’t know, he doesn’t know, and nobody may ever know anything except that it appears very much so that a new era is being defined.

TurlockCityNews.com appreciated Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden’s time and effort to communicate in what would ultimately be with the rest of the community. The interview conducted for TurlockCityNews.com did not begin with the intentions of publishing a transcript of the conversation but it seemed like every word was necessary to convey the sincerity of Roy Wasden. If the saying “The less you say, the less you offend” has any truth to it, I’m sure people could pick all this apart if they wanted to. If anyone is really interested in who this man is or even just to know who they are working with, this will give some insight.

 

TurlockCityNews.com Q&A with Roy Wasden:

 

TCN – How was your first week on the job?

 

Wasden – Very rewarding, very fulfilling. A lot of opportunity to meet wonderful people, probably the most difficult part has been meeting with those who are being laid off. I’ve met with half of them, maybe more, and I’ll meet with the rest of them before their employment is over. I thought it was important to have them know that I appreciate their work here in Turlock, let them know I’m sorry this is the way things are working right now, that we have hope for the future, and then listen to what they have to say. Even as we meet, I have a greater appreciation of the great people who work here. To a person, really high quality people, that are concerned about getting the work done, serving the community, love working here… Hope they can come back, really great people.

 

 

TCN – Turlock has a reported “divisive” Council, and your first meeting sitting in the position of City Manager didn’t seem that way…

 

Wasden – I think they are really great people who love Turlock. Our Council is made up of people who are willing to work really hard to try to better our community. Obviously among five people, you’re going to have five different view points. Our Mayor, Vice Mayor, Council Members are people who are not afraid to have an opinion, not afraid to have their view point. I think it’s critical, as we saw, that we have the opportunity to have a discussion. I think those discussions are very good when they have a range of opinion, then seek common ground and find solutions. I would agree, I didn’t see them as divisive. I saw them as working from different points of view to common ground.

 

TCN – Did you have anything to say toward the first meeting that may have influenced the decision (to put a potential investigation of Council in the past)?

 

Wasden – Right now my meetings with Council Members are focused obviously on their priorities for the work we need to accomplish, for directions. I’ll be evaluated by my bosses, I want to accomplish the things that are priority to them and especially when there is a consensus (at the very least with 3 Council Members).

 

I don’t know… I can just tell you what I see as I come here. I see really hard working, dedicated elected officials that care about this community deeply and want to accomplish the very best things they can for our community; they just have their different points of view. Whether we’re talking the investigation or the arts, there’s a common thread in all of their hearts which is to do what’s right and best for the community.

 

TCN – All of your quotes are very straight forward, almost not politically correct, you seem to have a clear understanding, and it is what it is… Is that your style?

 

Wasden – I think it is very much my style. Obviously we need to be sensitive to people’s feelings. I think there are two kinds of forms that political correctness takes, one is crippling and the other is enabling. There’s a view of political correctness that can make you afraid to speak up, that’s crippling. There is a common sense approach to respect for other people that you need to understand their background, culture, and feelings. If you can say or approach an issue with that understanding so that you don’t create barriers to communication… You don’t want to create offense. I mean you still have a message but if you can understand what the barriers to effective communication would be, why wouldn’t you implement that? I guess my approach is, just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do. We could put that in a number of other venues, the golden rule is big with me, treat others the way you’d like to be treated. I guess much of that is my approach to the world. I want to be respectful of others. The older I get, the more I know I don’t know very much. The more I realize I have got so much to learn in life, there are so many different things… Cultures, languages, places, so much. So all of a sudden you realize you just need to be as respectful and thoughtful as you can, while still moving forward and getting things accomplished.

 

TCN – How is the City of Turlock organization compared to like the City of Modesto? Is there anything uniquely different or that stands out?

Wasden – I think Turlock’s spectacular in a number of things, they are just light years ahead of most communities in California and across the United States. First of all, the sense of caring. A part of it is, we’re not a super big community, 74,000 I think was the last number I saw. So we’re not this monstrous city like LA, so I think there is the ability at our population to care about each other, to have neighborhood involvement, to know many people in the community, to not feel like this is just this huge population where you can’t do anything. Yet it’s large enough to be significant. We’ve got great business, we got great opportunities, employers (more coming), and the WISP is just super wonderful. You look at the retail base here, it’s not out of balance with the housing. Obviously we want to bring more jobs, more retail, but clearly Turlock has done a great job of balancing all of those things to make a great community. I think it positions us well in the recovery of the economic downturn. Things are in place, I think as community of this size we can really pay attention to a future employer or retailer who wants to come here. What can we do and how can we get you here, because we want you to come. We want jobs here, we want those kind of benefits here that will help our community. I think that for me stands out really with Turlock. I think that’s reflective kind of as you look at the change in the economic numbers, I think will be born out over time. I think our economic numbers will be better, much quicker maybe than much of the rest of the Central Valley.

 

TCN – What about the organization specifically?

 

Wasden – I think the organization, as I talked about earlier… I’ve been meeting with the folks who are being laid off and I’m impressed with the City of Turlock workforce. They are committed, hard working, wonderful people. Clearly Turlock has done a great job attracting high quality people and keeping them here. We need to continue to build on that. The fact that there is very, very low turnover is just an indication of the quality of employer the City of Turlock is. The fact that we’re spread thin and we still get the jobs done, pretty impressive.

 

 

What can you tell us from your experiences with Modesto’s downtown development, privatization, etc?

 

 

I don’t have first hand experience with the privatization.

 

I think Modesto is about 210,000, probably close to three times the population of Turlock. So the comparisons I think become apples and oranges, it’s on such a different scale. I just think there are some dramatic differences on what can and is done in Modesto and Turlock. The downtown and the balance obviously was a very prominent issue. We have got to have a vibrant downtown but it’s got to be balanced with the services we can provide, you got to be able to afford your growth.

 

The analogy I use a lot of times in my mind is… As we look forward on issues, many times it feels like “wow, that’s an impenetrable forest or jungle, I don’t know how we’re going to get through that.” But then we just have to go forward. Then all of a sudden what looked like a wall of vegetation you couldn’t get through, there are openings, there is a way to get through. Then when you turn around and look back, you go “oh, that was ok, we figured that out.” So I come with that, I’ve gone through many impenetrable forests. I’ve gone through this many times in my life where it’s like “this is impossible, I don’t know what are we going to do.” And then as you go forward and deal with the impossible, we’re just going to work hard and find solutions. You look back and realize, oh there was a trail, there was a path for that and we found it, worked through it, and the outcomes are positive and good. People accuse me of being a Pollyanna or rose colored glasses kind of guy, but I just have this absolute conviction that we are able to accomplish, and that we should accomplish… it’s expected of us because it’s our job. I would like to relax and contemplate, have time, but this isn’t the world in which we live. I realize as we face difficult challenges, they make us better, stronger. This tough economic time, it’s painful what we’re going through. It’s painful to see people that we love and care about to lose their jobs. On the other side of this, we’ll be a better Turlock, we’ll be a better government, we’ll be more efficient, and we’ll be able to accomplish things that we couldn’t have accomplished having not gone through this. My sincere hope and prayer is that the economy turns around, all those who have been laid off can come back, and we can get going forward and continue to smartly grow here in Turlock. In a nut shell, my view is that challenges are good.

 

 

TCN – What stands out as our strengths and challenges here in Turlock?

 

Wasden – The strengths within the city government are truly the people. I just continue to find them extraordinary people and I haven’t met everybody yet. I’ll be out in all the different work groups and getting to know people and understanding all the things we’re doing. I fully suspect I’ll continue to find outstanding people that really care about their jobs, performing well, delivering good services in their area… I think that’s just a given.

 

In the community… I’ve just received a really warm welcome from every aspect of the community, and again I’ve just begun to touch the tip of the iceberg. I think the Council is very reflective of the community, they’re elected by the community so they’re very in-tune with the community. Again, I find them to be just wonderful people who love their community, want to serve, and do what’s best for the City of Turlock.

 

The challenges… The top of the list is the economy. How do we wisely, appropriately use the very limited resources (and still to some extent diminishing resources)? It’s bad news that we devalued properties by 3.5% that the county tax assessor noticed us this week, but it’s good news that we thought it was going to be 7 or 8 percent. Preliminary numbers on our sales tax for the 1st quarter (I’m going to mess up on the number but I think) are up I think 1.3 percent. So we actually saw a positive number in the sales tax numbers. There are challenges with what the state is going to do to get out of their fiscal crisis. There are a number of areas that could have a dramatic effect on the City of Turlock. So that’s just one of those looming “what’s the state going to do” questions. Are they going to take RDA money, gas tax money, stop the supplemental law enforcement funding, implement lab fees at the state crime lab, or implement booking fees? What’s going to happen there, there’s many things that could give you ulcers. So we have to watch that closely. We’re clearly working through a budget year in which we’re going to have an obligation to really watch and work on the budget year round. It’s as simple as “turn out the lights.” We’ll be talking about every strategy we can employ to contain costs, lower costs. If that’s as simple as turn off the lights, don’t let an engine idle… It’s those kinds of things we need to do. I think we’ll just go through it, it’s that impenetrable forest this economy is right now and on the other side we’ll look back and say “oh yeah, we found a way.”

 

TCN – After stating how great Turlock is, would you like to state why you aren’t moving to Turlock?

 

Wasden – Like many people, I owe more on my house than I could sell it for currently and it will probably take a number of years before that is going to reverse. Obviously it has sort of gotten tied down, living where I live currently in Modesto. The other issue is that I’ve made commitments to my church that require that I live in the Modesto area. So at least for the foreseeable future, I’ll be honoring those commitments and commuting to Turlock to work. If there’s ever a way I can move to Turlock, I will.

 

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