The City of Turlock is once again seeking to fill its top administrative post — for the third time in five years — and it won’t be easy.
In late August, Robert Lawton submitted his letter of resignation to the Turlock City Council ending his 13-month tenure as City Manager. Lawton left soon after the Council finished a budget process that included drastic spending cuts to reach a balanced budget.
In his resignation letter, Lawton stated, “Together we have illuminated Turlock’s fiscal challenges, prepared and adopted a structurally balanced budget and taken up the task of charting a path for progress. It is with these successes in mind that I look to my own future, and new opportunities that lie ahead.”
While there has been no public discussion of the process the City will undertake to find Lawton’s replacement, Mayor Amy Bublak confirmed that the Council decided to forego hiring a recruitment firm due to the City’s financial situation and instead use the in-house attorney to facilitate the candidate search process.
The City of Turlock posted a recruitment listing for the City Manager position on its website and other media outlets with a preferred application deadline of Oct. 11.
According to attorney Doug White, the City had received less than 10 applications by Friday. The City also contacted a handful of applicants from the previous two City Manager recruitments (in 2018 and 2017), but had “mixed results,” according to White.
Compensation is not the problem when it comes to attracting candidates, according to White, as the City of Turlock’s salary range for the administration position at $197K to $237K is considered “extremely competitive.”
White attributes the lack of candidates to the City’s financial situation and said that no one wanted to step into the position where there is a possibility of layoffs in a good economy.
The City of Turlock is in dire financial straits and faces the possibility of bankruptcy if it continues to spend down all its reserves. The recently adopted balanced budget is not sustainable as it significantly cuts funding to public safety agencies and postpones safety equipment purchases and other needed maintenance items.
Turlock’s newest City Manager will be asked to jump right into finding new revenue sources and creating a more efficient way for the City to operate almost immediately upon hire. The new City Manager will also be tackling these problems without the help of an Administrative Services Director (the City’s chief finance person), as that position is currently open.
“It’s the perfect storm,” said Bublak about the issues facing the new city manager. “This is the most trying time and the most important position.”
The Turlock City Council has two closed session special meetings scheduled, on Monday and Wednesday, with the only item regarding the City Manager position.
Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke has been serving as interim city manager since Lawton’s departure.