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Wasden's departure marks end of an era

When Roy Wasden took over as Modesto's police chief nine years ago, he inherited a department plagued by problems and suffering from a lack of leadership.

He quickly addressed the most pressing problems and filled the void at the top.

Now, he's about to trade in his cop's badge for a city manager's hat. It's a change that we think offers great potential for both Modesto, which is losing him, and Turlock, which has hired him.

Wasden arrived in July 2000 in the wake of a weapons scandal that had left the Modesto Police Department's reputation tarnished, its officers demoralized and its then-chief faulted for poor leadership.

Wasden took charge immediately, dealing with personnel issues and establishing policies to prevent future problems, all with a professional style that was a welcome change.

Over the years, Wasden chalked up many successes: He built solid working relationships with other law enforcement agencies, reached out to community groups, expanded neighborhood policing and guided the department through high-profile crimes such as Laci Peterson's murder, as well as a national accreditation process.

But his tenure also was marked by controversy and criticism: A month after he started, a SWAT team member accidentally shot and killed an 11-year-old boy during a drug raid; he has promoted new ordinances for minor infractions while auto thefts, gangs and drugs continue to plague the community; he has come under fire from some minority groups who feel singled out by the police; there are continuing suggestions of favoritism within the department.

Over the years, The Bee has had a good relationship with Wasden, even though we have disagreed on numerous occasions over the withholding of information we believe the public needs -- and has a right -- to know. In recent years we have seen Wasden become, in our opinion, hypersensitive to criticism, from the public and from us. That, we feel, led him to rely too heavily on department spokesmen when the community needed to hear from the chief himself.

That said, during his time here Wasden served the department and community well. But after nine years, his popularity and effectiveness as chief seemed to have plateaued or even waned, which is not unusual in an era when long-tenured leadership is increasingly rare.

So, for Wasden and Modesto, this change presents opportunities.

In Turlock, as the top appointed official in Stanislaus County's second largest city, he'll deal with everything from street repairs to parks to water and sewer services to zoning to budgets.

He's never done this kind of job and, as he said Tuesday night when his hiring was announced, "I have a lot to learn."

Like all cities in California, Turlock will face tough budget decisions. The city is about to enter a partnership on the largest public works project in the county's history, a $200 million water treatment plant. The economy may have put growth on the back burner, but planning issues will return. Dealing with the homeless is a contentious issue. And he will work for a council that has been characterized by division and dysfunction -- and that summarily fired its last city manager.

For Modesto, Wasden's departure will give City Manager Greg Nyhoff an opportunity to address concerns and make any needed changes in priorities, structure or staffing. We agree with Nyhoff's plan to promote Assistant Chief Mike Harden to interim chief while the city conducts a search for Wasden's permanent replacement. In looking for the next chief, we encourage Nyhoff to seek input from as many citizens and community groups as possible. We wish Modesto well as it undertakes that process.

We wish Turlock well with its new city manager.

And we wish Wasden well in his new role.

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