Former Stanislaus County CEO Reagan Wilson was appointed by the Turlock City Council as city manager Feb. 8, bringing a halt to the revolving door of interim executives who had served for over a year before him. Ahead of his first Council meeting Tuesday night, the Journal sat down with Wilson at City Hall for a question-and-answer session about his priorities and vision for Turlock.
Q: What would you like the citizens of Turlock to know about you, who you are and your mindset coming into this new position?
A: I’m a native of Turlock, I was born and raised here. And my parents were born and raised around here. They went through the Turlock school system, so I have deep roots in the city of Turlock. My parents moved here back at the turn of the century, so I grew up in Turlock and I had a wonderful time growing up in grammar school and high school. Let's see what else about me. My wife, Sherry, and I have a ranch out on the Merced River between Hilmar and Stevinson. There are walnuts, and a field hand takes care of all the heavy lifting so that's not something I have to do anymore.
What do I see for Turlock’s future? We're just going to make things better. Through process management, through total quality management and through better communications training. We're going to review all our practices and functions and see where we've got some inefficiencies and make them more efficient for the public. And certainly in between different organizations within the city limits and City, there's some opportunity for there to be more efficiencies between them.
Q: What made you want to apply for this job and go through this process?
A: Well, I went through three job interviews. There was a citizens group, there was a professional group of city managers and then it was ultimately with the City Council. And I'm told I aced all three of them, but I don't know…I have my ranch hand because I have serious back issues — I've had seven multiple back surgeries. I couldn't do the heavy lifting and shoveling, the pulling and all of that, which is why I hired someone to do all that. So, he does 99% of the work out at the ranch and the little 1% I’ve got to do is just making sure we're on track with what needs to be done in the orchard. So, I had a whole bunch of time… I'm an avid reader, so I was up to reading three or four books a week and I said, this isn't doing it for me.
Then I saw the announcement for the city manager job for the City of Turlock and I said, you know, I could do that job. I did it for the county for almost 30 years. I thought I could do that job, and I think I can make a difference. So, my underlying motivation was I wanted to do something where I could make a difference.
Q: What do you think sets you apart from the other city manager candidates?
A: I think 30 years of experience is what certainly sets me apart from most people that apply for the job. I think my county level experience and that I ran a private sector company along the way, listed on the NASDAQ…I've worked in both the public sector and the private sector.
Q: What would you say to Turlock residents who know about your time at the County and your resignation, and might have worries about that?
A: That was a hit job by the Bee. I mean, just flat out. All of their so-called allegations have good, solid explanations. The County auditor did a complete audit of all my expenses, and came back and said everything was appropriate. Three district attorneys, one from Merced, one from San Joaquin County and the State Attorney General all looked into the matters and concluded there was nothing there to further pursue, as did the Fair Political Practices Commission. They said there was nothing to pursue there. So, I guess my answer is the Bee had their perspective. Why they had that perspective, I don’t know.
Q: What would you say your number one goal is for the City of Turlock?
A: I'd say the number one goal is getting the homeless situation better under control and making sure we're delivering the best services we can for the homeless. The second would be equal to the homeless, just to get streets improvement program going.
Q: Do you have a plan to address homelessness?
A: …The reality is, from a shelter perspective, there's plenty of beds for all, between the Gospel Mission, We Care, and then the backup at the fairgrounds that we have available. We have more than enough beds every night to have every homeless person in the city asleep in a temporary shelter bed…I was asking our housing program staff, what are we doing about the homeless? What are we doing about housing, generally? And the reality is it costs $350,000 to build a new home today in this area, and for the contractor builder to make profit, they've got to sell it for $600,000. So how many homes can you buy with $4 million? We need to find a different approach. I have this idea about maybe going about and buying existing apartment complexes, and existing rental houses…There's some other temporary shelter options through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and they've got these trailers that have been made available but we would need to put a piece of ground up to do that. I've got a couple ideas about currently sat on property that would accommodate that. We're going to chase those things down. I think the component that's missing in the homeless program is that we need to also hook them up with jobs. The County runs a robust job training program…which means they can then have an opportunity to get into permanent housing.
Q: How do you see the City taking care of its roads past the current five-year initiative and how will the ongoing effort be funded?
A: I think Measure A is an important source, but there are other sources for roads, too. There's federal money, there’s state money. We need to combine all of those sources together to come up with a comprehensive road service program. We've got 15 projects on the books. Most of them will be completed between now and the end of fall of this year. Between now and then, we will put at least another 15 projects on the books to be started in 2023. And my expectation is that we'll put 15 projects a year on the books. By the time we’re into this for three years, that's 45 streets and roads definitely improved. And the worst ones, because we've done the surveys, we know which ones are the worst ones and I personally got out and drove the streets and roads, just to see it for myself. I'm just a city manager. I don't know what the engineers see. I just know what I feel is what I feel as a citizen.
Q: The City is short staffed. How do you foresee getting City Hall back to where it was in terms of the number of employees?
A: I think we will increase our staffing, particularly those jobs that were eliminated as opposed to just adding carte blanche new jobs. We need to go back and look at what those jobs were doing, and how do they fit into our City operations? Certainly, the police and fire services need to be really fully-staffed the way this Council wants them to be staffed, so we'll present agenda items and certainly in our mid-year or quarterly budget review, that's on the Council agenda. There's an opportunity to do that. We've got a balanced budget, not by much, but there's also $8.6 million in unallocated reserves. My expectation is we need to build up the City's reserves with part of that money, and then we use the rest of the reserves to work on the roads program and bring in public safety financing. We've got a new relationship with the City of Modesto’s Fire Department, which I'm excited about. I see that has been really beneficial to both agencies. I think our Animal Services has an opportunity to cut a deal with Stanislaus County to provide shelter for animals and close ours down because it's so inadequate, and it's just not really a healthy place, in my opinion.
Q: Do you foresee the City’s partnership with the Modesto Fire Department lasting forever, or do you hope to hire your own Fire Chief one day?
A: That's a five-year agreement, so we'll see where we are at the end of four and a half years…The union all agreed to go along with this. I have expectations that the union is going to want to be paid the same rate the Modesto firefighters are paid at some point, which will be subject to collective bargaining. We'll see how that turns out.
Q: Council members are hosting community forums to take suggestions on how COVID relief funding should be spent. How do you think the City’s nearly $16 million in American Rescue Act Plan funds should be used?
A: I'm going to wait and see what the public has to say and what the Council has to say. I don't want to preclude the review process.
Q: Turlock has two cannabis dispensaries with more on the way. What are your thoughts on cannabis, the City’s pilot program and the revenue stream it provides?
A: I think the fact is cannabis is a reality. It’s much like alcohol beverage sales. It's in state law and it's reality, but we can impose restrictions on where they're located, and what their operating hours are…I think we need to have a fairly robust review and evaluation of these facilities that's ongoing. But I don't see us walking away from $2 million or $3 million a year of income, which can be used for streets and roads, and for homelessness. There are benefits.
Q: This City Council does not have a lot of success with city managers. How do you hope to work with the Council?
A: I think each Council member has their opinion and their perspective, and I expect them to share that with me and the public on a routine basis. A split vote is not my concern. My concern is to provide the best professional recommendations I can out of the various organizations in the City, and this Council's job is to make the policy around those things. Then it's my job to make sure that the City is compliant with those policies…What you see both city councils and boards of supervisors having disagreements amongst themselves about is land use. So, when we start the general plan review, that will be interesting.