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Turlock loses City Attorney
Departure comes in wake of bullying claim by former city manager
city attorney Phaedra Norton
City Attorney Phaedra Norton is leaving the City of Turlock after close to 10 years of service. - photo by Journal file photo

The City of Turlock is losing yet another department head, as City Attorney Phaedra Norton announced she will be leaving her position as of March 14 to pursue another employment opportunity.

“It has been my privilege to serve this community as City Attorney for close to 10 years,” Norton said. “My time here in Turlock has been the most rewarding of my professional career and I am proud of the many goals and accomplishments that I have been a part of. It truly has been an honor. While I am saddened to leave my friends and colleagues, I know that the community is in excellent hands with its dedicated and talented staff and a Mayor and Council that are committed to its continued success.”

Norton is the fourth department head to leave in the past nine months, along with Director of Development Services/City Engineer Mike Pitcock, Director of Planning Services Debbie Whitmore and City Manager Gary Hampton, who was recently awarded a $39,000 settlement for a hostile work environment claim he made against the City in which Mayor Gary Soiseth, City Council member Matthew Jacob and Norton were named.

Norton has been with the City since July 2008. Before coming to Turlock, she spent nine years as an attorney for the City of Modesto.

“Phaedra Norton is one of the finest city attorneys in the region. It has been an honor and privilege to work alongside her, but I am happy for the new opportunities that have come her way. Phaedra will be missed by her entire Turlock community,” said Soiseth.

Interim City Manager Robert Talloni said Norton’s “legal counsel experience, work ethic and integrity have been invaluable to the City of Turlock.”

While her time at the City of Turlock has been lauded, recently she’s come under fire.

In November, Hampton filed a claim against the City of Turlock for six weeks of lost salary and benefits, saying he was subjected to a hostile work environment at the hands of Soiseth, Jacob and Norton.

In his claim, Hampton states that he was solicited in May by “an appointed official of the City to engage in unethical activities intended to undermine the 2017 City Manager recruitment/selection process.”

“…I was requested to influence the selection of the next city manager to the benefit of the appointed official who was a candidate for the position. After refusing, I became the subject of continuous criticism and character attacks by the appointed official and supporters of the official, amounting to a hostile work environment,” said Hampton in his claim.

Hampton went on to state in his claim that after reporting the conduct to elected officials, he was “met with immediate bullying and retaliation by the elected officials and collusion between the elected and appointed officials to engage in a cover-up and further retaliation.”

Norton was one of the 22 candidates identified by the recruitment firm Robert Neher & Associates to replace Hampton and she was one of eight finalists interviewed by members of three panels of community members and a panel of City executive staff.

Following Hampton’s claim, the City announced that it was restarting the recruitment process for the City Manager position. In January, the City Council voted 4-1 (with Council member Amy Bublak opposing) to award a contract for $29,900 to Peckham & McKenney for recruitment services to fill the City Manager position. The Council is expected to review candidates in April.

Fire Chief Talloni has been serving as Interim City Manager since July 2017. The City Council appointed the firm Meyers Nave to serve as Interim City Attorney while a search is conducted to replace Norton.

Principal Engineer Eric Picciano has been serving as the Interim Development Services Director/City Engineer since Pitcock left in November.  Senior Planner Katie Quintero was appointed to serve as Interim Principal Planner on Feb. 1 to fulfill oversight of the Planning Division.

“With the different personnel changes comes more opportunity for both internal staff advancement and also the increased opportunity for outside employees to bring City Hall a fresh perspective and new experiences. It’s our goal to fill the positions quickly and with quality applicants, but we appreciate the patience of residents as we complete this stage of transition,” said Soiseth.