SAN LEANDRO -- City Manager Chris Zapata made an unusual proposal when asking for $10,000 raises for the police chief and assistant city manager -- to cover the expense, he will take a $20,000 yearly pay cut.

"It's a pretty novel approach, I think," Zapata said Monday after the council approved the two raises -- giving both employees an annual salary of $187,000 -- by a 5-to-2 vote.

He said he did it to keep Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli and Assistant City Manager Lianne Marshall from being hired by other cities in the area. He pointed out that there are about to be police chief vacancies in San Jose and Fremont, and Alameda's assistant city manager just left.

In return, Spagnoli and Marshall will commit to five-year contracts. Zapata's pay cut will cover the expense for the next two years, until his contract expires in 2014. After that, the raises will come out of the general fund.

"We have two extremely talented and marketable managers. They are vital to the management team," he said.

Under their new contracts, Spagnoli and Marshall will get yearly pay increases on top of their new base salaries beginning in 2014, bringing Spagnoli to $211,462 and Marshall to $209,434 at the end of five years. The two employees will pay their full share of retirement costs by the end of the contracts. Their medical and dental benefits will be increased to $1,400 a month, with a cap of $1,500 by the end of the contracts.


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Zapata's proposal to shift money from his pay to the two executives is unusual, said Kevin Duggan, West Coast regional director for the International City County Management Association. The association is the professional organization of government administrators.

"I can't say for certain that it's unprecedented, but I would say it's pretty rare," Duggan said. City managers have had to get creative in the current economy, and some have made sacrifices such as asking a council freeze their pay or even reduce their compensation to set an example, he said.

Duggan called a direct transfer of pay "a very magnanimous offer."

San Leandro has been bedeviled by management turnover. Zapata, who was hired in January at an annual pay of $223,000 after working for eight years as city manager of National City in San Diego County, is the city's fourth city manager since 2009.

"This city's administration and organization have been through a great deal of transition," Zapata told the council.

Spagnoli and Marshall started working for San Leandro two years ago, and just last month, the community development director and deputy city manager left to take jobs in Dublin.

Zapata has been able to fill two management positions since taking over: finance director and human resources manager. But the library director job remains vacant, as does the top job at the Alameda County Fire Department, which contracts with the city to provide fire protection.

Zapata said he was trying to create some stability with the new contracts.

"The most important thing a city manager does is hire a police chief," Zapata said after the meeting. "To the community, the police chief is the most important person in the city." And the assistant city manager has been invaluable by providing support in running the day-to-day operations, he said.

Council members Pauline Cutter and Jim Prola voted against the contracts, though they both stressed they valued Spagnoli and Marshall. Prola said the raises and improved benefits send the wrong message while the city is in contract talks and asking its rank and file to make sacrifices.

"The reality is, if San Jose or Fremont wants to hire our chief, there's nothing we can do to stop them," Prola said later.

Councilwoman Diana Souza thanked Zapata for being willing to reduce his salary to pay for the raises. "It shows how much value he places on these two individuals being an integral part of our city as we move forward," she said.

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.