A months-long investigatory leave for City Manager Toby Wells came to an end on Tuesday after the Turlock City Council approved a settlement agreement in a split vote.
Following a closed session meeting, Interim City Attorney George Petrulakis announced the settlement had been approved after Mayor Amy Bublak, Vice Mayor Pam Franco and Councilwoman Rebecka Monez voted in favor of the separation settlement, with Councilmembers Andrew Nosrati and Nicole Larson dissenting.
Wells was placed on investigatory leave on Jan. 7 — to which Nosrati and Larson also voted “no” — less than a month after new Councilmembers Franco and Monez were sworn in, and neither the results of the investigation nor the reasoning behind it have been released to the public. Larson and Nosrati were part of the Council which voted 4-1 to approve Wells as City Manager in March 2020, and Bublak was the sole dissenting vote at the time.
Wells commented on the settlement agreement in a statement to the Journal.
“The mutually-agreed upon separation agreement ends my tenure with the City of Turlock. I am very proud of the accomplishments of our team at the City of Turlock in the midst of budget constraints, staffing shortages and a global pandemic,” Wells said. “The passage of Measure A and several new developments will continue to make Turlock a great place to live and do business.”
The Journal has requested the settlement documents from the City, but they had not yet been made available by the time of publication. According to Wells’ three-year contract that he entered into with the City last year, termination without good cause would result in a payout equal to eight months of severance, or over $146,000. Additionally, Wells received full pay and benefits during his four-month leave.
City officials have not commented on the investigation, with Bublak calling the issue a “personnel matter” that couldn’t be discussed in recent meetings. In a text to the Journal, Bublak said she and the Council had been advised by Petrulakis not to comment on the settlement reached Tuesday. Nosrati said that after reviewing the information provided to the Council during the investigation, it was clear to him that the effort was either a “personal vendetta or terrible judgment.”
“I have nothing but great things to say for Toby Wells, and he carried the City through an incredibly difficult period with an impending financial crisis and a pandemic,” Nosrati said. “Unfortunately, he was a victim of Turlock politics, as usual, and it’s a shame that the taxpayers have to pay what will amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars because we have elected officials who can’t treat the office with the respect it deserves.”
Former District 4 Councilwoman Becky Hackler Arellano was part of the City Council that approved Wells’ hiring last year and worked closely with the former City Manager for about eight months.
“It was a very unfortunate incident that occurred in Turlock that the community had to pay for. During a pandemic when we needed leadership in the city, this decision was not in the best interest of Turlock,” she said. “I am happy there is some sort of a resolution and also sad that Turlock lost a great leader due to politics. Going through eight-plus city managers in a decade is unacceptable.”
When he was hired last year, Wells became the fifth Turlock City Manager since 2017. Two more have been appointed to the job since Wells was placed on leave, Gary Hampton and Sarah Eddy, the City’s Human Resources manager who began her new interim role this week.
As a retiree of Cal PERS, Hampton’s role with the City was only temporary and he stepped down after working the maximum allowable hours this week. He described his successor, Eddy, as a very talented and knowledgeable leader who has served as Acting City Manager before.
Eddy will carry the City through a transition period as the Council further explores options for a long-term replacement. City Clerk Jennifer Land will also leave her position at the end of the month and will be replaced by Executive Administrative Assistant to the Municipal Services Department Allison Martin on an interim basis.
With a combined 47 years of experience with the City of Turlock, Bublak said in a statement that Eddy and Martin were well-suited for their new roles.
“We are always elated when our employees engage in new opportunities,” Bublak said.