Reforms in government are never easy, but they’re often necessary.
As the great-grandson of some of Turlock’s first farmers and residents, I’m committed to preserving our history as a small, close-knit community. As mayor, I’m also committed to reforms that acknowledge our need to be accountable, unbiased and transparent in how Turlock conducts business now and into the future.
Reflecting on my 18 months in office, I’d like to highlight some reforms the City Council has implemented:
▪ Increased oversight of tax dollars spent for tourism services. Following a thorough review of funds “misused” by past Turlock Chamber of Commerce leaders, a settlement of more than $250,000 is to be repaid to the city.
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▪ Created a new management strategy for contract compliance of outside services. This guarantees all 475 contracts have a city employee dedicated to oversight and full compliance.
▪ Overhauled our debt management strategy, which includes paying off approximately $5.4 million of high-interest debt, saving taxpayers over $6 million in interest payments over the next decade.
▪ Added accountability within city departments by requiring clear deadlines, start and end dates for all projects, even posting timelines inside City Council chambers for the public to review.
▪ Reformed our building department’s fee structure to allow deferral of residential fees until a home or development is occupied and actually using city services. Since its creation earlier this year, we’ve deferred more than $1.5 million, which encourages infill development and allows residents to occupy new homes more quickly.
▪ Eliminated a long-term contract for our city manager, making this individual’s service based purely on merit and performance. Without costly severance packages, our city manager is now even more accountable to Turlock’s residents and the council.
▪ Reformed the entire event permit process for those who want to operate in Turlock’s public spaces. This revised process ensures applicants have liability insurance, the proper “nonprofit” or “for profit” registration and that they reimburse the city for staff time and resources used.
▪ Most recently, following multiple community workshops on campaign finance reform, Councilman Bill DeHart and I authored – and the Turlock City Council has passed – one of the most stringent and straightforward campaign finance reforms in any California city.
Overall, reforming and refining our processes have placed Turlock on a path toward financial security and dramatically increased our accountability to those we serve.
Will reforms always yield the results that we’d like? Unfortunately, no, or maybe not right away. This can be frustrating to some, but I continue to respect the need for accountability too much to abandon such reforms altogether, even if they challenge an established way of thinking or threaten City Hall’s “status quo” method of operating.
As Turlock continues to thrive and maintain its position as a leader in the Central Valley, we must adapt and update how the city operates for all residents. We must preserve our history as a strong community while also recognizing the way we operated years ago as a city of 30,000 has room for improvement since Turlock is now home to more than 70,000.
Over the next 2 1/2 years of my term, we will stay firmly focused on refining and reforming City Hall’s way of doing business and we will always be mindful of our ultimate mission: to better serve Turlock’s citizens by making real reforms that lead to real results.
Gary Soiseth is the mayor of Turlock.