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Ex-Ceres city manager Wells reaches settlement in Turlock severance
Toby Wells
The City of Turlock and City Manager Toby Wells reached a separation agreement (Photo contributed).

Toby Wells, the former Ceres city manager who left in 2020 to take on a short-lived role as Turlock’s city manager and was released, approved a settlement for his termination.

The Turlock City Council placed Wells on investigatory leave on Jan. 7 less than a month after new councilmembers were sworn in. The fractured Turlock body was split over the settlement when it voted on May 25.

Following a closed session meeting, Interim City Attorney George Petrulakis announced the settlement had been approved after Mayor Amy Bublak, Vice Mayor Pam Franco and Councilwoman Rebecka Monez voted in favor of the separation settlement, with Councilmembers Andrew Nosrati and Nicole Larson dissenting. 

The settlement after the two parties had conflicting opinions regarding whether or not his termination was justified, documents show. 

Wells was awarded a lump sum of $55,000 to be paid by the city in addition to his wages and any accrued and unused leave payments through June 11. The city will also pay to continue health and dental insurance for Wells and his spouse through September at the cost of $1,953 per month. 

According to the agreement, the city believed it had sufficient cause to fire Wells following an investigation, while Wells disagreed that he was subject to termination “with cause” and denied any and all allegations. The employment contract signed by Wells when he was hired stated that if he was fired without cause, the city would have to pay him eight months of severance, or over $146,000. 

Wells and the city reached an agreement because they wished “to resolve all matters among them concerning employee’s (Wells’) separation from employment,” the document reads, and the settlement includes a list of promises both parties signed their names to. One item on the list is that Wells waived his right to a “name-clearing” hearing, which he was originally entitled to under his employment contract should he end up being terminated without cause. 

The settlement agreement was approved by the City Council in a split 3-2 vote during a closed session meeting on May 25 after Mayor Amy Bublak, Vice Mayor Pam Franco and Councilwoman Rebecka Monez voted in favor of the separation settlement, with Councilmembers Andrew Nosrati and Nicole Larson dissenting. 

Wells commented on the settlement agreement, saying: “The mutually-agreed upon separation agreement ends my tenure with the city of Turlock. I am very proud of the accomplishments of our team at the city of Turlock in the midst of budget constraints, staffing shortages and a global pandemic. The passage of Measure A and several new developments will continue to make Turlock a great place to live and do business.”

City officials have not commented on the investigation, with Bublak calling the issue a “personnel matter” that couldn’t be discussed. 

Nosrati said that after reviewing the information provided to the Turlock council during the investigation, it was clear to him that the effort was either a “personal vendetta or terrible judgment.”

“I have nothing but great things to say for Toby Wells, and he carried the city through an incredibly difficult period with an impending financial crisis and a pandemic,” said Nosrati. “Unfortunately, he was a victim of Turlock politics, as usual, and it’s a shame that the taxpayers have to pay what will amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars because we have elected officials who can’t treat the office with the respect it deserves.”

Councilwoman Becky Hackler Arellano was part of the council that approved Wells’ hiring and worked closely with him for about eight months. 

“It was a very unfortunate incident that occurred in Turlock that the community had to pay for,” she said. “During a pandemic when we needed leadership in the city, this decision was not in the best interest of Turlock. I am happy there is some sort of a resolution and also sad that Turlock lost a great leader due to politics. Going through eight-plus city managers in a decade is unacceptable.”

Wells was the fifth Turlock City Manager since 2017. Two more have been appointed to the job since Wells was placed on leave, Gary Hampton and Sarah Eddy, the Human Resources manager who began her new interim role. 

As a retiree of Cal PERS, Hampton’s role with the city was only temporary and he stepped down after working the maximum allowable hours this week. He described his successor, Eddy, as a very talented and knowledgeable leader who has served as Acting City Manager before.

Eddy will carry the city through a transition period as the council further explores options for a long-term replacement. City Clerk Jennifer Land will also leave her position at the end of the month and will be replaced by Executive Administrative Assistant to the Municipal Services Department Allison Martin on an interim basis.

With a combined 47 years of experience with the City of Turlock, Bublak said in a statement that Eddy and Martin were well-suited for their new roles.

“We are always elated when our employees engage in new opportunities,” Bublak said.