Tomorrow night, the Turlock City Council will meet in closed session following its public meeting to discuss potential renewal of pay contracts for City Manager Roy Wasden and City Attorney Phaedra Norton.
The items, 11B and 11C, are stated as “Public Employee Performance Evaluation[s]” for the City Manager and City Attorney, respectively. Item 11D, also under the closed session, describes a “Conference with Labor Negotiators” regarding the “salaries, salary schedules, or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits” on behalf of the City Manager and City Attorney.
All three of the items are allowed to be discussed in closed session under California Government Code 54957(b)(1).
According to City documents and as confirmed with Wasden, his contract as City Manager did expire on June 30. Discussions tomorrow night will look at a potential renewal of his contract as well as Norton’s, although November’s General Election may mean a new majority on Council.
Currently, Gary Soiseth and Mike Brem have announced their candidacy for Mayor. The deadline for the filing period is Wednesday. It was extended when current Mayor John Lazar decided not to seek reelection and pulled his name from early talks of intention for candidacy. This means that come January, Turlock will see a new Mayor.
Two City Council seats are up for election, for a total of three seats on the five-seat Council. This means that come November, the Council could be provided an entirely new majority.
In other words, if both Councilmember positions open do not go to either of the incumbents, three new faces would represent City Council, joining current Councilmembers Amy Bublak and Steven Nascimento for a total of five.
So why the renewal of the contract now when at least one newly elected person to City Council (Mayor) is just a few months away? Some candidates spoke out on the issue.
"My campaign is about a new and clear vision for our city,” said Soiseth. “I commend Turlock's current managers for their hard work and dedication, but this is not an issue about their performance. Leading up to an election that will reshape the mayor's office is not the time to make these critical personnel decisions."
Soiseth feels it would be unfair for current Council to make decisions that could affect a future Council when at least one of the three positions up for election will be filled by a new person.
"As a candidate for mayor, I simply don't think it would be prudent for the current leadership at City Hall to needlessly bind the future council with long-term management contracts. Regardless of who is Turlock's next mayor, it is only fair that the mayor-elect is given the opportunity to help decide who will best execute his vision for our city. It's simply the right thing to do."
Jacob, candidate for City Council, stated similar feelings.
“When elected, I certainly would want the freedom to make critical choices based on what I know is in the best interest of our city,” said Jacob.
Candidate for City Council Alvarado also made his position clear, stating that renegotiating the City Manager’s contract right before an election “would be in very bad taste.”
“I definitely want to have input should I be on the Council,” said Alvarado. “I think it would be in very bad taste to do these negotiations and deals right before a new council is elected because most will think it is the current council that made the decision and could possibly be unfairly targeting them.”
Additionally, Alvarado was surprised at the apparent ease with which this resolution for contract renewal was addressed in comparison to other issues.
“This increase seems it was done incredibly easy while labor negotiations have gone on for quite some time,” said Alvarado. “That's not right. Let's get a new contract for our workers before we even begin to discuss the City Manager salary!”
Councilmember Bublak also weighed in on the discussion. On July 8, at a City Council meeting, Bublak addressed her concern with the Council approving a task force to evaluate whether pay raises are in order. Wasden authored the request for a task force. When asked for comment on his contract renewal taking place before elections, Bublak stated the following:
“As a general rule it is not appropriate for me to specifically comment on personnel matters. However, I believe we should be consistent in our negotiations with all employees including the City Manager and City Attorney. I understand we will have a new Mayor and potentially two new council members so as I have stated previously I find it most prudent to hold off until after the voters have shared their views.”
Councilmember DeHart, who is up for reelection in November, echoed Bublak’s address of confidentiality on closed session items.
“I am aware of Items B & C on the agenda as staff evaluations are annual events,” said DeHart. “Regarding Item D, my comments would be premature, potentially inaccurate and perhaps even inappropriate. As you are aware, Closed Session items are just that, and further, personnel matters are confidential. I anticipate the discussion in closed session.”
The remaining candidates, however did not weigh in on the first major potential issue of the election, forecasting their approach to future conflict.
All current City Councilmembers and City Council Candidates were contacted for comment, as well as the City Manager, City Attorney, and Mayor.
According to the employment agreement made on May 27, 2009 between the City of Turlock and Roy W. Wasden, effective July 1, 2009, Wasden “accept[ed] such employment and agree[d] to perform the duties discharge the responsibilities of City Manager and perform such other duties and responsibilities as may be assigned by the City Council” as set in Turlock Municipal Code 2-4-200 et seq.
At that time, the employment agreement stated that the “City shall pay WASDEN a starting annual salary of Two Hundred Two Thousand Two Hundred Ninety-Six and no/100ths Dollars ($202,296.00) (range 50.2 step 1 on City’s salary schedule).”
Wasden spoke briefly with TurlockCityNews.com on the issue.
“It’s interesting that you ask, since you’ve already published that I was considering staying for three years,” said Wasden, when asked if he has plans to stay on with Turlock as City Manager.
However the reference was not in fact pertinent to the article, but instead to readers’ comments beneath it.
“Well, currently my contract expired in June, my five-year contract, and I’ll be discussing with Council an ongoing contract,” said Wasden. “If we make a contract or not, we’ll see. We’ll have those discussions. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about it at this point.”
Mayor John Lazar also spoke briefly on the subject.
“They’re ongoing negotiations, I’m not privileged to talk about it right now,” said Lazar.
When asked about talk of a three-year contract being negotiated along with a raise, Lazar stated he had no comment.
“I have no comment,” said Lazar. “I don’t know where you’re getting your information but it’s not authorized.”
And when asked whether he believes it is fair to negotiate the City Manager’s pay contracts before upcoming elections, Lazar made his own final comment before abruptly hanging up the phone:
“I’m not talking to you about it, thank you,” said Lazar.
The City Attorney, Phaedra Norton, whose pay contract is also up for negotiation Tuesday night, did not return a request for comment.
Because little information was provided by the Mayor or the City Manager on the subject, TurlockCityNews.com turned to City documents and a report released in December 2013, by the City Government Salary Survey, released by California State Controller John Chang. According to the State Controller’s report, Wasden is paid $218,437 per year and $57,625 in total retirement and healthcare cost. According to the report as of December 2013, Wasden is the highest paid City of Turlock employee.
His 2009 employment agreement with the City states that the City may not reduce Wasden’s annual salary unless an identical percentage reduction is imposed on all manager salaries. It also states that Wasden “shall be entitled to receive Five Hundred and no/100ths Dollars ($500.00) per month for car allowance” and “shall be entitled to receive a stipend of One Hundred and no/100ths Dollars ($100.00) per month for technology purposes (e.g., cell phone and computer use).”
The agreement also details his benefits and sick leave and explains that Wasden may terminate the agreement by providing 30 days written notice, and that the City may, without cause or legal excuse, terminate the agreement during its term providing written notice and tendering as severance pay a written amount equal to nine months of compensation plus all accrued sick leave, vacation, and paid holidays, and agreeing to provide Wasden with continued medical, dental, and vision benefits for nine months beginning on the date of termination.
To compare cities of similar size, based off of the State Controller’s most recent report (in 2012), Manteca, with a population of 71,164, paid its City Manager $199,712, with $37,239 for total retirement and health cost, and Merced, with a population of 80,599, paid its City Manager $173,192 with $33,758 for total retirement and health cost.
As a much larger city, San Jose, with a population of 984,299 residents, paid its City Manager $234,551, with $154,367 for total retirement and health cost.
The City Council will discuss the City Manager and City Attorney’s pay contracts during a closed session, following the public Council meeting held at 6 p.m. Aug. 12 in the Yosemite Room of City Hall at 156 S. Broadway.