Report: Turlock mayor’s dad did not follow rules in catering son’s event

Mayor Gary Soiseth gives his State of the City address at the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock, CA, in 2017.  That event, along with the one in 2018, was catered by the Turlock Unified School District.
Mayor Gary Soiseth gives his State of the City address at the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock, CA, in 2017. That event, along with the one in 2018, was catered by the Turlock Unified School District. naustin@modbee.com

The Turlock Unified School District has determined its longtime child nutrition director, who also is the father of Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth, acted outside the scope of his duties and permission when he catered his son’s State of the City Address in July.

And as a general rule, the district no longer will cater city events unless they benefit the district’s students or the educational community, according to David Lattig, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources. Lattig responded to questions for this story by email.

The school district placed Scott Soiseth on paid administrative leave Sept. 21. The date for his return to work had not been determined as of Thursday. Lattig would not say why Soiseth is on leave.

“So we are clear, the District never stated the reason why he was placed on paid leave,” Lattig wrote. “The District took corrective action related to the incident outlined in the complaint investigation letter I sent you.”

The school district investigated Soiseth after someone filed a complaint Aug. 6. The district on Sept. 11 sent that person a letter outlining the results of the investigation. The district provided The Bee with a copy but blacked out the name of the person who had complained.

The letter stated the mayor’s office requested the school district cater the State of the City Address in July, and that Scott Soiseth donated the coffee and doughnuts (which the city has said cost $133.88).

But the letter stated Soiseth “used public funds without appropriate authorization, as his department hired and paid for a District employee to prepare and deliver the donated coffee without advance District approval.”

The letter states the school district has allowed the Child Nutrition Department to “cater events related to educational purposes involving students” and has a “policy and practice of providing catering services to a variety of other organizations in the community.”

The letter cited the mayor’s annual youth conference as an example of a district-approved event but said the State of the City Address in July was “outside the usual scope of catering services.”

The letter states the school district has catered city events since 2012. That includes the city paying the school district $150 to cater the mayor’s 2017 State of the City Address. Lattig wrote the district did not approve that event.

Lattig also wrote that the “District’s investigation of the complaint revealed that additional events had been catered outside of our approved guidelines. As a result, the District conducted a comprehensive review.”

Information was not available on whether the district had approved other city events catered by the Child Nutrition Department. They include $680 the city paid for breakfast and lunch for a June 2016 health benefits fair and $425 for breakfast and lunch for a March 2017 Fire Department event, according to records provided by the city.

When asked in a previous story why his father would donate the coffee and doughnuts for the most recent address after the city paid for them for the 2017 State of the City Address, Mayor Gary Soiseth said: “From my understanding, my dad wanted to personally donate the coffee and doughnuts. He’s proud of his son.”

Soiseth — who is being challenged by former Mayor Brad Bates, Councilwoman Amy Bublak and former council candidate Jaime Franco as he runs for re-election Nov. 6 — declined to comment for this story.

Scott Soiseth has not responded to several attempts to reach him by phone or at his home. His annual salary is $116,281, according to the district.

When asked why the district would place an employee on paid leave, Lattig wrote: “The District makes personnel decisions on a case by case basis and determines appropriate actions based on the unique circumstances surrounding each situation.”

Soiseth has worked for the school district since at least 1998, according to Bee archives, and he has been a leader in providing healthy meals for students while getting the most of the food from California producers. Stanislaus Grown, a group that promotes the county’s farm products, named Soiseth its Food Service Director of the Year in 2016.