TURLOCK -- As Turlock grapples with laying off employees and shutting off street- lights to save money, the City Council voted Wednesday to make its new city manager the highest-paid chief executive among Stanislaus County's nine cities.
Roy Wasden will earn a $202,296 base salary as part of a five-year contract. That's $18,000 more than his predecessor, Tim Kerr, who was fired in January.
Modesto City Manager Greg Nyhoff earns a base salary of $195,000 for overseeing a city with about three times as many residents.
This is Wasden's first job as a city manager after nine years as Modesto's police chief.
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Council members Ted Howze, Kurt Spycher and Mayor John Lazar voted to approve the contract, which will begin no later than July 1. Councilwoman Mary Jackson voted "no" and Councilwoman Amy Bublak, a Modesto police officer, abstained.
Some audience members said Wasden's pay will be too high, given Turlock's fiscal woes and his lack of experience as a city manager.
"(You're) not sending the right message to the people you are serving," said Walter Tordoff, a retired professor from California State University, Stanislaus. "I basically think it's unconscionable."
"I'd like to be paid $202,000 to learn on the job, wouldn't you guys?" asked 30-year-old Turlocker Sergio Alvarado, referring to a comment by Wasden in The Bee that he had "a lot to learn."
Lazar said Wasden's salary is "very comparable" to Kerr's when benefits and other compensation are included.
Kerr earned nearly $188,000 in gross pay in 2008, according to data requested by The Bee.
City Attorney Phaedra Norton said Wasden, like all other city employees, will put 5 percent of his salary, or $10,000, toward his benefits next year.
"(Wasden's) contract is actually less than the previous city manager as a whole," Norton said.
Howze gave an analysis that claimed Kerr was much more expensive because he worked only 20 hours per week. That prompted gasps from the audience.
After the meeting, Lazar dismissed Howze's claim.
"I don't think it's worth answering," Lazar said with a smile.
Among Wasden's other perks: a $500 monthly car allowance, $100 per month for cell phone or computer use and an immediate 240-hour credit of sick and vacation time.
Wasden did not attend Wednesday night's council meeting.
The City Council voted to hire Wasden on May 12.
City officials advertised the job at a salary range of $167,256 to $203,316.
Last week, city officials hashed over $5.2 million worth of cuts and reserve spending, including laying off 21 full- and part-time employees. Another proposal called for turning off some streetlights in the west side and older Turlock neighborhoods, for an annual savings of $158,000.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.