In the end, the issue came down to Cleland's deep experience and institutional knowledge, said Commissioner Daniel Bernheim.
The manager issued a statement Thursday: "I appreciate the support of the township Board of Commissioners and the fine Lower Merion community that I serve. I will continue to work my hardest to live up to it."
Board President Liz Rogan regarded the Democratic victory as "the next step - now we can keep moving on." She predicted, however, that Republican criticism of the contract would not cease.
Cleland's pay package runs to Jan. 6, 2014. It gives the 28-year township employee a $202,989 base this year, up from $193,000 last year, and a 2 percent bump to $207,049 the next.
He also gets an 8.1 percent longevity bonus and a township contribution of 8 percent toward deferred compensation, paid to top managers. Other perks and benefits are eight weeks off, 60 sick days, and a car plus fuel at township expense.
Some at the six-hour meeting in Ardmore called the contract excessive and the perks overly generous, even for affluent Lower Merion.
"For taxpayers to pay for his personal gas to go down the Shore or California, that's ludicrous," said retired businessman Bernard Becker.
Others said Cleland, who manages 422 full- and 311 part-time employees, was worth every penny.
"As is so often the case, one gets what one pays for," said former Board President Bruce Reed, a Democrat.
Craig Wheeland, a political science professor at Villanova University, said Cleland was one of the region's best-paid managers for good reason: Lower Merion borders Philadelphia, so Cleland must know city laws and policies.
"His compensation isn't out of line if you look at the kind of work he does," Wheeland said.
In contrast, Radnor Township's manager made $182,000 in 2011; Abington's manager, $150,000; Upper Dublin's, $155,245; Upper Merion's, $134,300, and Cheltenham's, $147,776.
Lower Merion Citizens for Responsible Budgeting, a nonprofit created by David O'Connell, sponsored a 38-second robocall sent Tuesday. Left by "Paul from Ardmore," it urged residents to speak out against the contract.
The robocall, traced to 801-410-7985 in Utah, angered many at the meeting. Bruce Reed labeled the use of "Paul from Ardmore" misleading.
"The facts in the call are accurate and LMCRB, a nonprofit corporation, is clearly identified as the sponsor of the call," O'Connell responded. "If Mr. Reed and his allies think the pay package is appropriate, why would they object to any effort to publicize the vote?"
Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog "MontCo Memo" on philly.com.