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Wells gone, Westbrook now city manager
• Westbrook to retain planning role until replaced
Council online
A screenshot from Monday’s Zoom meeting of the Ceres City Council. Meetings are only accessible online as part of the state’s Covid-19 social distancing mandate.

The Ceres City Council voted on Monday to approve a contract with Community Development Director Tom Westbrook to serve as interim city manager of Ceres.

Toby Wells’ last day as city manager of Ceres was Friday.

Wells was hired last month to become the city manager of Turlock, a city where he had been employed as an associate civil engineer from 1998 to 2000. His first day in Turlock was on Monday but he appeared on the internet meeting of the Ceres council that evening. Wells has spent the past six years serving as the Ceres city manager, filling in after the departure of Art deWerk who served as police chief and acting city manager. Wells previously served as the Public Works Director.

Westbrook, 45, has been with the city since Jan. 29, 2001 when he was first hired as an associate planner. His new title is his eighth over the past 19 years. He previously worked in Yuma County, Arizona, for two years and later as an unpaid interim with the city of Patterson.

On Monday the City Council approved Westbrook’s compensation package at a annual base salary of $155,700. City Attorney Tom Hallinan said that Westbrook will also continue to serve as director of Community Development – the equivalent of a Planning Department – until a permanent replacement is hired. That’s expected to happen within six months.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno questioned why the proposed contract included a clause saying that if he’s terminated that Westbrook would receive six months of severance pay and all of his accrued sick leave. She wondered why all of the sick leave would be granted when retirees may only cash out on half of their accrued sick leave. She said Wells’ contract did not include that clause.

Westbrook said he was okay to eliminate the clause.

Councilman Channce Condit commented that he supported a one-year contract with Westbrook to allow the next City Council and mayor to decide if they want to continue with Westbrook in the top position. A new mayor and council will be seated after the Nov. 3 election. Despite the employer agreement being set for an “indeterminate period,” the city manager is at all-will employee who can be removed if the council for any reason. Condit predicted Westbrook will “be very successful as our next city manager.”

Ceres resident John Warren submitted a comment that Westbrook shouldn’t have an open-ended contract and called for a citizen panel to be involved in the selection process.

During the internet-accessible only meeting, Mayor Chris Vierra read aloud the wording of a crystal plaque given to Wells, thanking him for his service: “In Heartfelt Appreciation to Toby Wells for Dedicated Service as City Manager April, 2014 – April, 2020; Director of Engineering Services/City Engineer August, 2011 – April, 2014; Presented this 13th day of April, 2020, City of Ceres, California.”

Accolades for Wells were offered by three members of council with Ryno and Condit noticeably silent.

“I think there’s a lot that we can look back on that he helped get accomplished in the city and I wanted to personally thank him for that,” said Mayor Chris Vierra. He wished him well in Turlock and said the city there will benefit from his expertise.

Wells said it was his privilege to serve Ceres for 10 years and that he leaves very proud of the city team.

Councilman Bret Durossette said he offered Wells a “big thumbs up” and complimented him for bringing a rich harvest of cannabis business related revenues into city coffers.

“You did a great job,” Durossette told Wells.

Councilman Mike Kline offered Wells his thanks as well.

“You’ve done some tremendous things for this city and I wish you well in the city of Turlock,” said Kline.

City manager Westbrook
Tom Westbrook is the new city manager of Ceres. - photo by Jeff Benziger