In a document released by the Oakdale City Manager’s Office on city salaries, the City of Oakdale paid over $415,000 to just three employees who were initially designated as temporary, part-time, hourly employees, hired to guide the city to solvency during the absence or after the removal of certain upper-management employees.
After the dismissal of City Manager Steve Hallam in 2011, the city council believed it could save money by hiring part-time, interim, experienced executives who would be paid only an hourly wage.
Former Atwater City Manager Greg Wellman, hired to serve as interim city manager and later moved to an operations manager, was paid over a $205,000 salary for 2012. Retired Merced County Administrator Dee Tatum, who was brought aboard by Wellman to oversee the public works department, was paid over $115,000. Stan Feathers, also retired from Atwater, served as interim city manager from July to December and received just over $92,000 for his tenure.
Referred to as “hired guns” by critics, the arrangement with all three former Merced area public sector administrators was touted as a cost-saving measure for the city by having to pay only an hourly wage of $93 per hour for Wellman and $74 per hour for the others, without benefits. Since all are receiving a public pension, they had a 960-hour limit on the amount of time they could work. The 960-hour limit was later waived when Oakdale approached the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) and requested an “exigency” extension for Wellman.
“This is what I said during my campaign,” said Oakdale Councilman Farrell Jackson, who had previously referred to Wellman as a “carpetbagger” by only trying to enhance his retirement. “The numbers don’t add up. These guys aren’t saving us money.”
Jackson pointed to the money disbursed in payouts to the removed management employees’ contract obligations and time accruals as “the mayor cleaned house” combined with the salaries paid to the “part-timers” estimating over $1 million was spent by the city.
“We could use that money right now,” Jackson said. “We would be sitting in a better position.”
Jackson said the city should have gotten along and worked together with the existing managers.
Mayor Pat Paul defended the actions of using the interim managers and what they were paid, stating she was the one who went to the state looking for the exemption for Wellman.
“What he (Wellman) did for us was invaluable,” said Paul. “I told them (CalPERS) he kept us from becoming a Stockton.”
Paul added that the three were each doing the jobs of two or three people.
“I’d rather pay one good person the money we paid, than the two or three who weren’t doing their jobs,” said Paul.
“I will tell you frankly, it’s all terrible,” said Councilman Tom Dunlop, who confirmed that a “dire need” extension was needed for Wellman. “We should have hired people when people were let go and done it right.”
Dunlop said that at the time the appointments were made he thought the move was an economically efficient plan. He now is rethinking his decision, saying he is angry and believes hundreds of thousands of dollars were lost by the decision.
“As far as I’m concerned, it was a stop-gap measure,” said Dunlop. “We should have come up dollars ahead. The council should be held accountable.”
Cost of Payouts Not Included
Dunlop also faults the city’s obligation to pay out accrued time during the departure of its lead administrators for causing some of the financial bind.
In April 2011, the city paid fired City Manager Hallam $175,090 in contracted severance pay and for his accumulated leave time. Outgoing Planner Danielle Stylos was paid $58,626 in accrued time on her departure in early 2012.
In July 2012, Oakdale paid dismissed Public Works Director Joe Leach $19,919 for his accumulated leave time and also agreed to pay him $40,000 to settle his claim that he was owed six months' severance pay based on the labor agreement that covered senior managers.
Payouts were not available for City Engineer Dave Myers and Public Works Analyst Anthony Smith when they were also dismissed by the city in July.
“I was honestly only looking at this to be only a 90 or 120-day assignment,” said Wellman when contacted. “When I was brought in I found many problems left behind. On the financial front, we were getting hit all over.”
Wellman said he took over a city that had gone 17 months of undone financial reports, employee lawsuits, hundreds of thousands of dollars due from land owners, and an audit that was two years behind.
“If I had been billed out as a consultant it would have been at $200 to $250 an hour,” Wellman said. “Look at the product and value brought to the table. If we didn’t have those services, where would the city be today?”
Wellman, 65 at the time he was interim city manager and later a special project manager, described the Oakdale assignment as “grueling” and a “rough one” that resulted in countless nights of no sleep.
“I will never work those hours again,” said Wellman, who added he worked more hours than he was actually paid.
Six-Figure Pensions Also Drawn
A review of a public database on California public retirements shows that Wellman receives over $175,000 from his 35-year Merced County annual pension and $66,024 from his eight-year CalPERS pension.
Wellman said he purchased five years of service time through CalPERS when he was Atwater city manager to increase his payout to over 13 years of service credit.
The same database showed Tatum draws a $165,000 pension with Merced County and Feathers draws an over $110,000 pension from his combined time with Merced County and CalPERS cities.
Former Waterford City Manager Chuck Deschenes has been working with the city under the same $74 per hour agreement since last November. His pension totals were not available since he retired in 2012.
With the three interims now departed, the city is still left with vacancies and is recruiting for an assistant city manager.
“Bryan (New City Manager Whitemyer) has no one to work with,” said Dunlop. “Albert (Finance Director Avila) is over his head too.”