Turlock city manager abruptly resigns after closed-session job review

Turlock’s city manager Bob Lawton is pictured in May of 2018.
Turlock’s city manager Bob Lawton is pictured in May of 2018. Submitted by Bob Lawton

Turlock is once again looking for a city manager after Robert Lawton abruptly resigned Monday.

In a letter to the City Council, Lawton, who started with the city in July of last year, said his resignation is effective Tuesday.

Lawton’s decision came the same day the City Council scheduled a special meeting to evaluate his performance. The council met Monday morning in closed session; Mayor Amy Bublak said afterward no reportable action was taken.

In his letter, Lawton said, “Together we have illuminated Turlock’s fiscal challenges, prepared and adopted a structurally balanced budget and taken up the task of charting a path for progress,” according to the news release. “It is with these successes in mind that I look to my own future, and new opportunities that lie ahead.”

The city has had a tumultuous recent history, with spending that brought its reserves down to dangerous levels. In June, Turlock fired Fire Chief Robert Talloni, who had served as interim city manager before Lawton was hired.

Talloni had taken over the helm of the city when Gary Hampton took early retirement in 2017. Hampton later filed a claim against the city, saying that then-Mayor Gary Soiseth, then-Councilman Matthew Jacob and then-City Attorney Phaedra Norton bullied him. The city denied wrongdoing but paid Hampton $39,000 to settle the claim. Norton resigned from office last March after being on leave for several months; Soiseth lost his re-election campaign and Jacob did not run to keep his council seat.

Bublak said in the release that Lawton helped bring financial stability back to the city, among other things by reducing his own pay by 14 percent.

“As mayor of the city of Turlock, and on behalf of my council colleagues, I want to thank City Manager Bob Lawton for preparing and adopting a structurally-balanced budget which positions us to regain our citizens’ trust concerning the way we spend their hard earned tax dollars,” Bublak said.

Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.
Patty Guerra is managing editor at The Modesto Bee. She has held several writing and editing roles since starting at The Bee in 1999. She’s a graduate of Fresno State.