Claims that Turlock’s former mayor used his position of power to try and stop a city employee from being politically active during the 2018 election season were substantiated by a recent investigation.
The investigation was initiated after Turlock Police Detective Jason Tosta filed a formal complaint with the City of Turlock Human Resources Department in August 2018 stating then-mayor Gary Soiseth attempted to silence his legally-protected right to engage in off-duty political activity.
According to Tosta, Soiseth contacted his supervisors in his official capacity as Mayor in an attempt to stop him from expressing his political views at Council meetings and through his Facebook page, Turlock First.
The investigation, conducted by Erich Knorr of the firm Van Dermyden Maddux Law, concluded “by a preponderance of the evidence that Mayor Soiseth engaged in the conduct attributed to him and violated the City's Harassment and Discrimination Policy.”
When contacted by the Journal about the investigation’s findings, Soiseth said: “I have not read the report, but I disagree with the conclusion. Mr. Tosta was very vocal in his political disagreements with me on social media and by making regular public statements. He made no attempt to hide his identity, yet I treated him with respect and dignity throughout the election season. It is flatly untrue that I requested any negative actions toward Mr. Tosta from his superiors. I support every employee’s right to free speech, but I also assert my own right to defend myself against political attacks and to correct the record when my actions and words are misconstrued.”
The findings of the investigation were sent to Tosta on Jan. 7 in a memo written by the Human Resources Department. The memo stated that “had the accused been an appointed employee, rather than an elected official, dismissal from City service would be the maximum possible sanction. Given that Mayor Soiseth was not reelected and is no longer affiliated with the City, the City considers the foregoing sufficient remedial action to address the complaint.”
While Soiseth is no longer associated with the City of Turlock in an official capacity, Tosta believes the organizational culture that allowed the harassment to happen still exists at City Hall.
Tosta said that, in his opinion, then-Interim City Manager Robert Talloni allowed a “pattern and practice of harassment towards employees of the City of Turlock.” He also believes that Interim City Attorney Sanchez “allowed a pattern and practice of harassment and attempted to cover up or influence the outcome of this investigation in collusion with former Mayor Gary Soiseth.”
“They think because Gary Sosieth lost the election the problem resolved itself. It didn’t,” said Tosta.
The way the City went about conducting the initial investigation was an issue for Tosta and an example, according to him, of the cronyism that has infected the City of Turlock administration. Tosta said that he was notified on Sept. 25 that Paul Clancy from PMC Investigative Services would be conducting the investigation into his harassment complaint against Soiseth.
After doing some research, Tosta found that Turlock Interim City Attorney Jose Sanchez and Clancy had worked together in the past. He thought that an investigator with previous ties to the current city attorney was not an independent source and submitted a request to City Manager Robert Lawton to find a different third-party investigator.
On Oct. 8, Tosta was notified that the City had hired Attorney Matthew Roberts from Shaw Law Group to conduct the investigation. Again, Tosta had concerns about this choice as Shaw Law Group had been hired by Soiseth in the past for the investigation into claims by former City Manager Gary Hampton.
Tosta said he once again submitted a request for a different investigator with no ties to city employees or elected officials. That is when the City hired Van Dermyden Maddux Law.
Following a memo sent from Tosta to City Manager Lawton on Jan. 8, the City decided to open another investigation.
“I’m going to hold them accountable,” said Tosta.
When contacted by the Journal, City Manager Lawton replied: “Because your inquiry is related to a personnel matter, the City of Turlock is unable to comment at this time.”