TURLOCK -- Roy Wasden trades in his gun for a shirt and tie today as he officially becomes city manager. The former Modesto police chief sat down with Bee reporter Merrill Balassone to talk about the stink over his salary, his vision for Turlock, and his famous "cuss cup." (Wasden's answers have been edited for length.)
Q: Let's get the toughest question out of the way. The City Council has gotten heat for approving a base salary that makes you the highest-paid city manager in Stanislaus County. How will you convince Turlockers you're worth it? (Wasden's base salary is $202,296 per year.)
A: Proof will be in the pudding. I'll be here. I'll be working hard. I'm confident that I'll prove my worth.
Q: When the city is laying off 23 workers and cutting services to balance its books, does your salary send the wrong message? Why not take a smaller amount?
A: I'll come and prove I'm worth every penny and more.
Q: With your family and church duties, what will your workweek look like? (Wasden holds a high position with the Mormon church.)
A: I typically will get here sometime between 7 and 8 in the morning. I'll try to wrap up the day between 6 and 7 at night. I look forward to the community events: getting to know Turlock better, meeting people, working with a service club, all the fun things we get involved with. It's one of the great advantages of being an exempt employee -- you can work all the hours you want. When does it stop being work? You live this job.
Q: Several longtime downtown businesses have shut their doors over the past year. How do you propose to jump-start Turlock's economy in the downtown core? What do you think of Turlock's idea to brand downtown as a "wedding destination?"
A: I think it's a great idea. I walked downtown today; it's beautiful. I would tell anyone with a business looking for a vibrant, attractive place to come and look. I think there are things we ought to be able to do to assist (that). It's a great time for people to invest. How long can this disastrous economy last? Things will get good again.
Q: The arts community has been one of the most outspoken at council meetings in lobbying for the rebuilding of the Carnegie Arts Center. Can it still be rebuilt despite the tight budget?
A: I believe very firmly that arts are critical for a community. I have a daughter that's a ballet major and teaches ballet. I think we have a responsibility not to build something if we don't know how we're going to operate it. I think there's a lot of work to do. Is the Carnegie possible? I think it's absolutely possible.
Q: Local government is a tough gig -- no stock options and plenty of public criticism. How do you propose to keep good employees in Turlock and to attract new employees as the budget allows?
A: I've looked at the turnover rates in Turlock; they're amazingly low. On one hand, it's a good thing. In tough budget times, it's difficult because if there was a higher attrition rate, it would be easier to project some vacancies as we deal with a very tough budget situation. I'm just meeting department heads ... who are 20, 25 years here in Turlock. They really believe in the community, love the community, love working for the community and are very good at what they do. I don't think I need to make any huge changes.
Q: You've said you believe in "smart growth." What does that look like in Turlock?
A: I think continue to do what they've done, which is balance business with housing, jobs with agriculture. You look at the strength of agriculture in Turlock, you look at growth of jobs, the variety of manufacturing and business and retail, looking at Monte Vista Crossings and how that's all developed out there. ... I call that smart growth.
Q: What's an example of Turlock's best program or project?
A: I was really impressed with the digesters in the water treatment and the methane that's produced and turned into electricity. How we're turning out very, very clean water as it leaves the treatment facilities here in Turlock.
Q: What's one program you would change?
A: One of the things that I'm very glad is happening is the upgrading of the financial and personnel management software in the city. The product they were working with was developed in the 1970s by a software writer who's the only guy who can deal with it. He's in his 70s now and nobody else can fix or patch or upgrade it. So as we try and build budgets and understand trends, it's not useful. And this new software will be.
Q: You were known for your "no-swearing" policy among employees in the Modesto Police Department. Will you continue that policy in Turlock?
A: Yes. There are going to be frustrating things, and it's OK to be frustrated. We'll make sure we use very professional language and be respectful about what we do and say.
Q: What will the fine be for violations of this policy?
A: It was (25 cents) in my prior life. That seems like a reasonable amount. I had a "cuss cup" that I left (at the Modesto Police Department). I think it had $60 or $70 in it. I told them to go get pizza one day and keep using the cuss cup.
Q: What else do city employees need to know about your management style?
A: I guess my management style is one of we can accomplish more, we can do more. I know we're going through a very challenging time where we have fewer resources, and it would be easy to get discouraged, but we shouldn't. We should not ever get discouraged. Yep, there are tough days. Go sleep for a while and you'll feel better when you wake up.
Q: Since the 2008 election, the City Council has developed a reputation for infighting and division. Can it be fixed? How do you repair it?
A: I think it's going to be critical that we have the opportunity to have discussions. Some of it is going to be maybe some hurt feelings, maybe somebody feels bad. What's that saying about "time heals all wounds?" We just have to go forward.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.