TURLOCK — City officials offered the lifeguards they overpaid some options for squaring the books, but the guards maintain they don't need to give back the money.
Last week, the city notified about 40 lifeguards and swim instructors that a $1 pay cut adopted by the City Council hadn't been processed, so they were all paid more over the summer than they should have been. The city reduced their pay for the checks issued last week, though officials backed off a plan to deduct money for previous weeks.
The lifeguards, most of them high school or college students, said they signed contracts for specific pay rates and that deducting for back pay would be a violation of the agreement.
Maggie Hinkle, who with Grady Baker took the lead for the lifeguards, met with City Manager Roy Wasden and City Attorney Phaedra Norton on Tuesday.
What happened at that meeting differs depending on who's telling the story.
Wasden: "We have resolved it. We came up with a couple of options for them; we can be flexible."
Hinkle: "We small-talked for a little bit, then it turned into bully Maggie day. ... He was insinuating that we were stealing from the city. I was completely insulted."
Wasden said he offered the lifeguards an opportunity to work a few extra hours rather than pay back the extra money. Baker bristled at the idea the lifeguards "owe" the city.
Another lifeguard, Adam Zellmer, pointed out that the season is mostly over, so the opportunity to put in the extra hours is limited at best. Some of the lifeguards have finished their work and are returning to school.
"It's almost not worth it," he said.
Work for free?
Hinkle said she asked Wasden about the lifeguards who have left, and he said the work could be put over to next year.
"I don't think people are going to want to come back and work three hours for free," she said. "I'm better than that. I will never work for free. We're certified staff."
Baker and Hinkle said the guards figure their next step is to approach the City Council about the money, which she said totals less than $1,000.
Mayor John Lazar said the council will listen if they ask, but he hopes the situation is resolved before it gets to that point.
"I respect the city manager," Lazar said. "Roy believes this is a learning experience. I can't fault him for offering options for them."
They might get a sympathetic response from Councilman Ted Howze.
"It's an unfortunate incident," Howze said. "But I don't think you take back money retroactively."
Howze said he hopes the city launches an investigation into how this happened. Wasden would say only that it is a personnel issue.
Lazar said he hopes there are no hard feelings and that the lifeguards return for another season next year. Wasden said the same thing, but he pointed out that the city needs to be fair to the rest of the seasonal recreation staff, which took the pay cut.
"It's a mistake," he said. "We need to somehow square it up, but the last thing we want is to make this a financial hardship."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.