Turlock City Manager Tim Kerr is on the hot seat because of a disagreement with City Council members stemming from his negotiations with an employee union.
Council members voted 4-1 on Monday to evaluate his performance. They held a special meeting to parse their memories of a closed-door session at which they approved a contract for the Turlock City Employee Association.
A majority of the council was concerned that Kerr gave too much to the union after their closed-door vote.
Representatives contend they voted to give the employee union as much as 9 percent in raises over two years, or to give ground to the bargaining group on a pension issue, according to people who attended the meeting.
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The Turlock City Employee Association gained both incentives, picking up the raises and a 0.7 percent increase in pensions.
"It was repeated over and over again that the enhanced retirement would be at no additional cost to the city," Councilman Kurt Spycher said.
Councilman Ted Howze said he was concerned about the raises and retirement benefits because they could come at a cost to the raises the city can afford for its public safety unions.
He said the council had prioritized those contracts because the city's police officers and firefighters earn signifi- cantly less than their counterparts in other cities.
"It's not that any group of employees are any less important," Howze said. "We'd love to give them all big raises. The problem is we only have so many dollars."
Mayor John Lazar said Kerr handled the negotiations as he was directed. Lazar voted against reviewing Kerr's performance.
"I have full confidence in our city manager," Lazar said. "He's very capable and competent. I'm not a micro-manager."
Kerr also said he believes he followed the council's instructions. "I thought the direction was pretty clear," he said. The council approved other contracts with the "exact same" language pertaining to retirement, Kerr said, but "we didn't see an issue at all until about 10 days ago when we started being questioned by first council member Howze."
Lazar further said the council would take minutes in closed-door meetings in the future so it's clear how representatives reach their decisions in those sessions.
California's Brown Act allows elected leaders to hold closed meetings to discuss certain subjects, such as personnel decisions and lawsuits.
Kerr's review could take place in a closed session meeting within two weeks.
Assistant City Manager John French said he thought the council direction on the contracts was clear before the city con- cluded its negotiations.
"Like in any argument or disagreement, we thought we were following the council's direction, and now because of apparently the viewpoint of some of them, we had to go through this debriefing exercise to see where we departed from the direction," French said.
The council voted at a special meeting with an agenda labeled "Review of meet and confer process." Lazar said it drew a packed audience, mostly from the ranks of city employees.
Kerr joined Turlock in October 2005 after seven years as Ceres' city manager. The Ceres City Council voted to dismiss him that summer, though its members continued to praise his work after they let him go.
Video of the Monday night meeting is available on the city's Web site, http://www.ci.turlock.ca.us. Click on "City Council Video."Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.