The Turlock City Council had a packed meeting Tuesday night as the highly controversial contracts of City Manager Roy Wasden and City Attorney Phaedra Norton were renewed.
Norton, who was at the meeting remotely via phone, noted the conflicts of interest between herself and Wasden because of the discussion of their contracts and the two exited.
The recommendation, according to the staff report, was approving employment contracts between the City and Norton for the period between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2019, as well as a contract between the City and Wasden for the period between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2017.
Wasden’s pay per the newly accepted contract will start at a “step 2 salary,” which monthly is $17,702, for an annual total of $212,424. At the end of each fiscal year, Wasden’s performance will be evaluated and potentially he will be given a step increase if his work is found as “satisfactory.” Step 3 and 4 of the City Manager’s monthly salary are $18,586 and $19,516, respectively.
Norton’s pay per the new contract is a “step 3 salary,” which monthly is $14,008, for an annual total of $168,096 with the possibility of step increases based on satisfactory evaluations, up to two step increases.
Councilmembers Forrest White, Steven Nascimento, Bill DeHart and Turlock Mayor John Lazar voted in favor of approving the new contracts while Councilmember Amy Bublak fervently dissented.
The issue for some lies within the fact that the renewal of these contracts leaves little flexibility for the incoming new Mayor and potentially two new Councilmembers should they not see either of the two employees as fit for their positions.
Should a new Council and Mayor deem it necessary to select a new Manager or Attorney, the City would face potentially damaging financial implications. Though contracts may be revoked for any reason at any time per the contract, the City would be obligated to pay the individuals 12 months of severance pay in addition to certain benefits.
Hypothetically, the City would expend $212,424 and $168,096 for the City Manager and City Attorney, respectively, in severance pay alone, plus benefits per the contract; additionally the City would have to pay a new Manager and/or Attorney.
Many would argue that a vote to renew these contracts was not necessarily prudent considering the election is three weeks away.
Sergio Alvarado, candidate for City Council, noted during the public comments section the pending election requesting that the new council have a voice in this decision-making process.
Nascimento retorted in the Council’s defense when he responded to Alvarado’s comments by saying that he was in the same position as an incoming Councilmember.
Nascimento stated that the current Council was elected and should be able to carry out their duties for the full extent of the term; he requested to move forward on the matter noting the contract’s provisions to terminate the contracts as a future Council may see fit.
Councilmember Amy Bublak, the dissenting vote, was dissatisfied with the decision but described herself as often being the outlier of the group. During the meeting she called for an outside investigation considering the recent events, including Measure B inserts sent in the September utility bills and a pay raise received by members of Turlock Associate Police Officers before their contract was ratified, that had gone on under the Manager and Attorney’s watch.
“I’m concerned that there’s been a couple issues… specifically utilizing utility bills, things of that nature, paying people before we vote, we haven’t ratified contracts,” said Bublak. “I think it’s important to show the public and our employees that we’re hearing you and I think, respectfully, that we should have an outside investigation and hold off on doing this until we’ve proven to the public that we trust everybody and that everybody is doing right.”
Lazar countered Bublak arguing that he did not see a need to pursue an investigation; he noted that in regard to Measure B mailers that went out in utility bills as being deemed legal per the Fair Political Practices Commission.
However, TurlockCityNews.com has recently learned that the FPPC is reviewing the Measure B inserts.
Bublak’s plea for a motion to suspend a vote on the renewal of the Manager and Attorney’s contract until after an investigation was not supported by fellow Councilmembers.
She stated that it would have been best to wait for the incoming council to make this sort of decision. Despite Nascimento’s public sentiment, Bublak noted that there has been a previously standing pattern of including incoming councilmembers in these sorts of decisions, as was done when White and DeHart were entering Council.