This month marks City Manager Gary Hampton's 100-day milestone as head of the City, and even though it's a position he's held before — for four months in 2009 — both Turlock and Hampton are at much different places today than they were seven years ago.
Hampton began his service to the City of Turlock in 2006, when he took the position of Chief of Police. In January 2009, Hampton was asked by the then-City Council under Mayor John Lazar to serve as Interim City Manager, following the Council's midnight decision to terminate City Manager Tim Kerr.
Hampton stepped into the position amidst strained relations between City employees and administration and during some of the City's darkest financial days. Just like municipalities across the state and country in 2009, Turlock was experiencing an economic recession.
During his four-month tenure in 2009, Hampton eliminated 54 positions at the City of Turlock — an experience that changed him forever.
"In 2009, I was given a short window of time to close a $3.6 million deficit and it led to the elimination of 54 positions," said Hampton, recalling the impact the decision had on many employees who were laid off, including loss of homes and marriages. "To this day, I bear the scars of that experience.
"I don't ever want to be part of having to downsize an organization in such a short amount of time that you could only lay them off. The lesson I took away was never again allow yourself to be cornered into one option."
Today, Hampton is leading a City that is seeing increases in both sales tax and property tax revenue and has grown in staffing over the past year — especially in public safety personnel.
While Hampton says his management style changed after his experiences in 2009, his core philosophy of forward-thinking leadership remains the same.
When he first came to the Turlock Police Department in 2006, he implemented a three-year strategic plan that sought to bring the department up to full-staffing levels, secure a new home for the growing department, implement tactics that help the department operate on a proactive basis rather than reactive, and improve the quality of life in the community.
Hampton is still a strong believer in strategic planning. He said when he interviewed for the City Manager position he was pleased to see that the City Council had recently adopted a strategic plan.
"I looked at the City's Goals and Implementation Plan and was pleased to see it was action-oriented. It makes my job very easy," he said.
Hampton was also comforted to learn, however, that the plan is a living document that could be updated as needed. He is currently in the process of meeting with all the City's department heads to examine each goal, its deadline and the feasibility of completion. Hampton said he hopes to bring an update to the Council in the coming months.
One of the issues Hampton is addressing — that stems from the 2009 cutbacks — is diminished staffing levels across the City.
"We're coming off seven years of reducing resources, but we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Council adopted an aggressive strategic plan with deadlines...and have not grown the City staff," said Hampton.
"To serve people, it takes people. (Staffing) is the most expensive resource and the most critical resource."
In some instances, said Hampton, it's a 'chicken or the egg' situation. There are numerous state and federal grants available for transportation, housing and public safety needs, however, to apply for the funding the City has to gather data and submit preliminary project plans — which takes human resources. If the City doesn't have the staff time available to put the grant applications together, then it won't be able to apply. But if the City is granted funding, it will pay for the human resources needed to complete the projects that will benefit the community.
Hampton said that another fallout of the recession years' cutbacks is department managers' reluctance to request more staff.
"In 2009, (department managers) were quick to call for more help. Today, rarely do you hear of employees ask for more help as a tool. In 2016, requesting additional staff is the last option," said Hampton.
While Hampton believes the City can better serve its community with sufficient resources, he is also preparing for the next economic downturn.
"I'm constantly forecasting. I subscribe to the philosophy that you should make decisions based on what's happening tomorrow and a month out, not what happened yesterday," said Hampton.
He expects there to be a dip in the economy in 2017-18. Just as the Central Valley was the last to see economic recovery, it will also have a delayed affect from a downturn — which Hampton says other parts of the state are already feeling.
However, Hampton said the City will be prepared for whatever the future brings.
"This City Council wants to undoubtedly communicate to the community in a meaningful way that we are moving forward."