Gary Hampton has returned to the City of Turlock to serve in an executive leadership position for the third time, following City Council action to appoint him acting city manager while the current city manager is under investigation.
The Turlock City Council voted in closed session on Tuesday 4-1 — with Councilmember Nicole Larson opposing — to appoint Hampton acting city manager effective Wednesday. The City Clerk reported the appointment of Hampton at a Step 1 salary level, which is defined on the City’s website as an annual salary of $195,696.
Hampton will be stepping into the City Manager role following the Council’s 3-2 decision during a special closed session meeting held Jan. 7 to place current City Manager Toby Wells on an investigative leave. The reason or reasons for the investigative leave were not released to the public. During the same meeting, contracted city attorney firm Churchwell White LLP tendered its resignation effective Feb. 28.
Wells was appointed to the City Manager position in March 2020, with a three-year contract that includes an annual base salary of $220,000. He is the fifth person to perform the tasks of Turlock City Manager in the past five years, with two of those people being other City department heads filling in during the City’s executive search processes.
Hampton is no stranger to Turlock. He served as Turlock City Manager from April 2016 to April 2017, however, he 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.
While Hampton has served the City of Turlock during some of its most troubling financial times, his departure from the City in 2017 was followed with a hostile work environment claim.
Seven months after he tendered a letter of resignation in 2017, Hampton filed a claim against the City of Turlock for six weeks of loss salary and benefits saying he was subjected to a hostile work environment at the hands of then-Mayor Gary Soiseth, then-Council member Matthew Jacob and former City Attorney Phaedra Norton.
As Hampton’s appointment was made during closed session, there was no public discourse by the Council on Hampton’s past experiences with the City of Turlock or why he was selected to fill the position of acting city manager.
Prior to Wells’ hiring in 2019, then-Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke had served as a long-term interim city manager. The City of Turlock had also tasked former Fire Chief Robert Talloni with serving as a long-term interim city manager following Hampton’s leave of office in 2017.
Mayor Amy Bublak had called two emergency meetings in the first full week of January — on Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, with the only two items of discussion — the city manager position and the city attorney position. While both meetings were held in closed session, members of the public did call in to voice their concerns with the timing of the emergency meetings, transparency of Council actions and possible Brown Act violations (— he state law that mandates that City business be conducted in public and prohibits a majority of Council members from contacting each other about an issue that will take action on during a meeting.
Council members Andrew Nosrati and Larson were opposing votes in Wells’ forced leave of absence.
“What we’ve experienced in the last couple of days was rushed, it lacked proper professional evaluation and courtesy and continues down a path where we are losing public trust and showcasing a lack of transparency that the public will remember. These actions we do here have a great impact on our organization, not only reputationally outside of these chambers and outside of this building, but with the employees that provide their professional services. What I’ve heard loud and clear throughout my term and prior was that there is a continued instability and chaos in City Hall. What we have long sought is stability and leadership and management and it is deeply concerning the path that we are headed down,” said Nosrati following the Jan.7 Council meeting.