The first action of the Turlock City Council in the new year has been to evaluate the services of the City Manager and City Attorney, following two emergency meetings called by the Mayor.
The motivations behind the special meetings - before the two newly elected City Council members have even gone through orientation - have been called into question by incumbent City Council members Andrew Nosrati and Nicole Larson and members of the public.
With a 24-hour notice to at least two City Council members and the public, Mayor Amy Bublak called for a special closed session emergency meeting on Tuesday with two items on the agenda - performance evaluations of the City Manager and City Attorney.
Some members of the public who called into comment before Tuesday’s closed session were concerned that the Council was considering spending some of the new Measure A city sales tax funds to give the two top administrators raises, despite Turlock’s financial woes. With the scheduling of a second emergency meeting for Thursday, it’s more likely however that the majority of the Council is seeking to terminate both City Manager Toby Wells and City Attorney Doug White.
The agenda items for Thursday’s meeting are “discipline/dismissal/release” of a public employee and take possible action regarding the services of the City Attorney.
Both City Council members Nosrati and Larson voiced concerns over the circumstances surrounding the special meetings.
“I am truly concerned that even before our first council meeting my colleagues have called a special meeting to discuss the performance and evaluation of the city manager and the city attorney and then another special meeting to discuss Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release. While I am unable to speak on discussions that took place in closed session, I am concerned about the direction the council is taking relative to the positions of City Manager and City Attorney, both of whom received an ‘above satisfactory’ review from this body less than 3 months ago and have brought very necessary stability and experience to our city. Especially given the fact that 2 of the 5 representatives on this council have been in office for less than a month. With the Turlock citizens trusting us with the passage of Measure A, this is a time to be propping up our professionals, rather than creating further uncertainty. If there is a time to hold your elected officials accountable with our city’s pocketbook, it is now, specifically tomorrow at 10am during the next special meeting,” said Larson.
“I’m deeply disturbed by the actions of my colleagues. What we have is a premeditated power grab,” said Nosrati.
Six members of the public - including two former Council members - also called into Tuesday’s meeting to voice their concerns about the way the meeting was called and the fact that the new Council members haven’t even had a chance to work with the City Manager or City Attorney for any length of time before evaluating their performances.
“I’m confused and alarmed on the need of a special closed City Council meeting. There’s been not enough time for new Council members to evaluate these top level positions. Only thing that has changed is new Council members who haven’t had a chance to work with the city manager and city attorney,” said a member of the public only identified as Kylie.
“The optics on this particular action of consideration of adjustment of pay for city manager and city attorney…are not good. As citizens of Turlock, we should be skeptical of increases like this,” said former Council member Bill DeHart.
DeHart went on to suggest waiting until the new Council had a chance to set goals and expectations of city manager and executive staff before making decisions.
Another member of the public questioned the transparency of the Council’s actions.
“It’s odd timing,” said Mike Melendez. “With new Council members, circumstances lead me to believe transparency wasn’t the aim. If this is how the new City Council chooses to do so, I’m not encouraged.”
Former Council member Becky Arellano said she was concerned that the Council’s actions weren’t in line with what was promised when it came to Measure A funds. If the City spends those new tax dollars on increasing salaries or having to pay out the contract for the current City Manager and spend the money to find a new one, it would be fiscally irresponsible.
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.
Turlock has had a recent history of not keeping its city managers around for long.
Before Wells, the City had been without a permanent City Manager since Robert Lawton left in August 2019. Lawton was hired in 2018, but served only 13 months of his three-year contract.
Former police chief Gary Hampton was the City Manager before Lawton from 2016 to 2017, being selected to fill the position following the retirement of Roy Wasden in December 2015.
During the lengthy search processes to find replacement city managers, other city department heads did double duty to fill the executive position including former Fire Chief Robert Talloni and former Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke.
The City of Turlock has contracted its legal services through the firm of Churchwell White LLP with managing partner Doug White serving as the City’s primary attorney since 2018.
Thursday’s special meeting regarding the public employee dismissal and city attorney services is scheduled for 10 a.m. Due to COVID-19, the public is unable to attend the meeting in person but can call in to comment via Zoom at: https://zoom.us/join WEBINAR ID: 849 2462 9186 or by calling: 669-900-6833 WEBINAR ID: 849 2462 9186.