Over and over again, the message from the public to elected officials has been loud and clear: As you slash government services and and shed employees, be sure you to take a hard look at the generous pay and benefits you're giving your top executives.
Yet, many elected officials don't seem to be listening. Or if they are, they're ignoring what they hear.
We put the majority of the Turlock City Council in that camp. Wednesday, three council members OK'd a salary and benefit package that makes their new city manager the highest paid in Stanislaus County.
Roy Wasden's base salary of $202,300 is $18,000 a year more than that of his predecessor — and $7,000 more than that of the city manager in Modesto, which is roughly three times the size.
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That's astounding, considering Wasden has no city management experience, and acknowledges he will be learning "on the job" about planning, finance, public works and other areas.
Add in Wasden's car and cell phone allowance ($7,200), deferred compensation ($7,000), personal development allowance ($700) and the fact that, in his case, the city will pay the employee's contribution to the Public Employee Retirement System ($14,000), and the package totals more than $230,000 a year.
The five-year contract calls for Wasden to get nine months' severance if he doesn't make it through six months. If he succeeds, he's guaranteed a year's severance.
Voting for the contract were Mayor John Lazar and council members Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher; the latter two are normally very cautious when it comes to spending.
The action comes after two longtime employees were laid off last fall and as the council is looking at eliminating up to 21 full-time and part-time positions because of its budget situation.
Wasden's generous package, which he negotiated, will put him in an awkward position as he works with city staff to reduce services. Yes, he's going to pay 5 percent of his base salary toward benefits — but so too are all city employees.
The Turlock council, like too many other state and local elected and appointed officials, don't seem to grasp taxpayers' frustration and anger about the overly generous salaries and benefits paid at the top.
That disconnect is a primary reason that citizens are so cynical about and distrustful of government at all levels.