Turlock is close to having a city manager for the first time in nearly a year and potentially ending months of turmoil, including accusations from the former manager that city officials bullied him.
The City Council on Tuesday will consider appointing Bob Lawton as city manager. His salary would be $215,748 plus a $400 a month car allowance as well as up to $20,000 in moving and relocation expenses. If appointed, Lawton would start no later than July 12.
Fire Chief Robert Talloni has been serving as interim city manager.
Lawton, 56, has been county administrator of Yates County in upstate New York since September 2016. The rural county has about 25,000 residents, and agriculture and tourism are its primary industries. The county is about two hours east of Buffalo and in the heart of New York's Finger Lakes region.
He has about 30 years of public sector experience, including about 20 working for county governments in New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and California.
According to his resume, he was interim assistant county administrator in Sonoma County from January 2016 to August 2016, principal management analyst for Solano County from January 2010 to February 2012, county administrative officer for Calaveras County from January 2008 to December 2009, and deputy county administrator for Solano County from January 2005 to January 2008.
Lawton also was county manager of Luzerne County, Pa., from February 2012 to December 2015. The county has an annual budget of $260 million, 1,500 employees and 321,000 residents, according to the resume.
Lawton has held many positions over the years. He said in some cases he left because priorities changed after new officials were elected; and in some cases he was brought in to make difficult recommendations and decisions.
But he faced a rocky time toward the end of his tenure at Luzerne County, with accusations that he had misled elected officials about the county's financial health and narrowly surviving attempts to fire him before he resigned, according to media accounts. But other officials praised Lawton's performance.
A Turlock news release said Lawton "stood out as the leading applicant" in a recruitment that attracted 25 candidates. But he could be stepping into a difficult job.
Former City Manager Gary Hampton announced in April 2017 that he planned to retire Aug. 31 of that year. But he retired six weeks earlier and filed a claim against the city in November.
Hampton alleged Mayor Gary Soiseth, City Attorney Phaedra Norton and Councilman Matthew Jacob bullied him and other staff members, forcing his early retirement. Hampton said the three tried to pressure him to use his influence to help Norton get the appointment to succeed him.
Soiseth and Norton have denied the claims in interviews with The Bee. And in an email, Jacob has called Hampton’s version "blatantly false." But Turlock agreed to pay Hampton $39,000 in January to settle his claim.
Norton resigned as city attorney in March after being on leave for several months.
Turlock council members did not respond to requests for comment made through City Hall on Friday regarding Lawton, and Soiseth declined to comment until after the council's decision Tuesday.
This is the City Council's second recruitment for city manager. The council scrapped its first search in October because council members could not agree, and started a new recruitment in January.
When asked whether he was stepping into a difficult role, Lawton said: "I believe in representative government and effective public administration. I think Turlock has a great opportunity to do both, and (it's a chance) for me to support a very dedicated work force and (help the city) complete the recovery from the Great Recession."
Instead of a five-member board of supervisors, Yates County is overseen by a 14-member Legislature. "We are going to miss him," said Legislator Carlie Chilson. "He's very personable and very knowledgeable."
Legislator Elden Morrison said Lawton is insightful and an excellent communicator but believes the job as Yates County administrator may not have been the right fit.
"I think he'd be more comfortable in a bigger area and with a bigger job," Morrison said. "He's more of a high-level thinker than a hands-on person. ... He'd be able to delegate some duties and do more high-level strategic planning."
Lawton has a bachelor's degree in political science from the State University of New York at New Paltz and a master's degree in political science from the University of Iowa, according to this resume.
The council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 156 South Broadway.