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Turlock postpones hiring City Manager
Michael Cooke
Michael Cooke, Turlock’s Municipal Services Director, was appointed by the City Council to serve as Interim City Manager through 2020 (Photo contributed).

The Turlock City Council is ending its search for someone to fill the open City Manager position, at least for now.

Mayor Amy Bublak reported the City Council decided to appoint Michael Cooke as a long-term Interim City Manager through 2020, following a special closed session meeting on Monday. Cooke, the City’s Municipal Services Director, has been serving as Interim City Manager since Robert Lawton resigned in late August.

“I am pleased Michael will be our Interim City Manager for the next several months as we confront the many fiscal challenges facing Turlock,” said Bublak.

Cooke has worked for the City of Turlock for 27 years, serving as Planning Manager, then Regulatory Affairs Manager and, for the past six years, as the Municipal Services Director in charge of Turlock’s water, wastewater and stormwater utilities. Cooke has a master’s degree in Public Administration from National University. 

“I am honored and humbled by the faith that the Turlock City Council has placed in me,” said Cooke.  “We have great challenges ahead and I am prepared to take them on with the help of our great staff and this wonderful community.  I look forward to moving Turlock from where we are now to a much brighter future.”

David Huff, Water Quality Control Division Manager for the City of Turlock, will step into the Acting Director of Municipal Services position.  Huff has served the City since July 2006.

When Lawton left, the City of Turlock posted a recruitment listing for the City Manager position on its website and other media outlets with a preferred application deadline of Oct. 11. According to attorney Doug White, the City had received less than 10 applications by Friday. 

This is the second time that Cooke has served as interim city manager. He took the helm of city administration in December 2015, when then-city manager Roy Wasden retired until Gary Hampton was appointed to the position in April 2016.

Turlock has had three City Managers in the past five years.

Lawton began working for the City of Turlock in July 2018, and came into the position with 20 years of experience in local government. When he was hired by the City, Lawton agreed to a three-year contract, however, 13 months later he tendered his resignation stating that he had “new opportunities” to pursue.

Under Lawton’s tenure, the Turlock City Council adopted a balanced budget that included significant cuts in spending and services offered by the City.

Before Lawton, Gary Hampton served as Turlock City Manager.

The former Turlock Police Chief returned to the City 10 years later to serve as its head administrator in April 2016. Hampton’s tenure as City Manager only lasted 15 months, as he tendered his resignation in July 2017.

In November 2017, Hampton filed a claim against the City of Turlock stating he left due to a “hostile work environment” that included being asked to “engage in unethical activities intended to undermine the 2017 City Manager recruitment/selection process.” The claim was settled and the City of Turlock paid Hampton for lost salary and benefits.

Hampton has since returned to Turlock, serving as an unpaid reserve police officer as of April.

Serving as City Manager prior to Hampton was Roy Wasden.

Wasden’s tenure lasted for six years — from 2009 through 2015. Thrust into office in the midst of Turlock's budget cycle in 2009, during one of the worst financial years on record for the city, Wasden stepped into what many termed one of the most unenviable jobs available at that time.

Turlock’s next City Manager may be facing similar circumstances in 2020.

The City of Turlock is in dire financial straits and faces the possibility of bankruptcy if it continues to spend down all its reserves. The City Council said the recently adopted balanced budget is not sustainable as it significantly cuts funding to public safety agencies and postpones safety equipment purchases and other needed maintenance items.