TURLOCK — The lifeguards can keep their money.
After several weeks of meetings and consternation over a pay cut that didn't happen, employees of the city's aquatic program took their case to the City Council on Tuesday night. Council members voted to put the matter to rest.
"I'm happy with our small victory," Maggie Hinkle said after the meeting.
Hinkle, who supervised the pool at Pitman High School, presented City Manager Roy Wasden with a check for $41.05, the amount she was overpaid after a $1 per hour cut was not implemented for lifeguards and swim instructors. She later took back the money.
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"We are not here to protest the pay cut," she said. "We are here to express our extreme disappointment in the way this was handled."
Upon realizing the mistake — the rest of the seasonal recreation staff got the pay cut — city officials earlier this month notified the aquatic staff that they were overpaid and the money would be removed from their upcoming paychecks.
On behalf of the staff, Hinkle met with Wasden and City Attorney Phaedra Norton.
"We worked hard for the money we had earned, and I wanted to make sure the retroactive pay cut was legal," she told the council. "Instead, I was being made to feel like I was stealing from the city."
The city later rescinded the retroactive part of the cut, instead sending each employee the amount he or she was overpaid and asking for reimbursement either in money or work next year.
Wasden recommended Tuesday night that the city do nothing further to collect the money, which amounted to less than $1,000 among 41 employees. Howze put forward a motion to do that.
"We notified these employees; some of these employees have already taken action to repay the city," Wasden said. "We appreciate their integrity and their recognition of the overpayment. Others are not wanting to make the repayment. We would leave that up to each individual employee."
Councilman lays blame
Councilman Ted Howze, who earlier said he didn't think the city should try to get the money back, called the situation unfortunate but wanted to place the blame where he said it belonged: "The failure of the aquatics supervisor to take the appropriate steps."
Wasden said earlier he could not discuss the matter because it was a personnel issue.
Juliene Flanders, the recreation supervisor in question, is on leave. She said Wednesday she would like to tell her side of the story but can't while the investigation continues.
"You were used as pawns," Howze told the lifeguards. "We, the elected body, apologize."
Councilwoman Amy Bublak also apologized to the lifeguards, pointing out that the council earlier voted to give up its benefits and use the money to keep the swim programs open:
"I believe you guys got caught in the middle of something," she said. "Give it back if you feel like you need to; otherwise let's just move on and I hope you come back and work for us next year."
Councilwoman Mary Jackson agreed it was time to let go of the matter, but disputed the idea of blaming a specific person, as Howze's motion suggested.
"I don't think anyone did this deliberately," she said. She cast the lone vote against Howze's motion.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2343.