Toby Wells last Wednesday checked into the League of California gathering of city managers after 139 days on the job in Manteca.
Today — at high noon — Wells appears set to check out of Manteca as the City Council is gathering for a special meeting to accept his resignation and then appoint a replacement.
The council on Friday gathered in a special meeting to discuss possible “evaluation/discipline/dismissal release” of the city manager.
While there has been no official word as to what was going on behind closed doors, a clue was provided by Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu when he jumped into a thread on the Woodward Park version of the Nextdoor app to defend himself Monday against comments by city residents that contend “the mayor needs to accept responsibility for the lack of leadership. The mayor and council are directly responsible for the hiring and firing the city manager. Everything wrong in this city is someone else’s fault under (Cantu).”
Cantu referenced Wells departing for “personnel violations” in his response.
“Gabriel, Sharon, Nina and Rich, yes let’s not blame the previous council and administrations . . . for the mess I couldn’t fix in my three years in office, why not blame me for COVID as well. Yup, another city manager leaving for personnel violations. By the way it was the full council that made decisions not just ME! Get your facts right.”
Wells’ departure means Manteca will have gone through four city managers in the 3 years and 3 months since the 2018 election.
The current council majority — Cantu, Gary Singh and Jose Nuño — were part of a council that forced Tim Ogden out as city manager. They also appointed Miranda Lutzow who suddenly resigned after 17 months. She had subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city contending they had created a hostile work environment.
The current council hired retired Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden as interim city manager while they searched for a permanent replacement. Harden had served previously as Manteca’s interim police chief.
Harden went back into retirement after Wells was hired by the current council that also includes Charlie Halford and Dave Breitenbucher.
Wells started work on Sept. 16, 2021.
By Manteca’s recent standards Wells’ tenure was short and swift.
When the council accepts Wells’ resignation he will have only worked as Manteca’s city manager for 145 days.
That shatters the record for shortest tenure set by Elena Reyes who was hired in 2016 before departing ways with Manteca after receiving a check in excess of $250,000 after being in the city’s employ for 266 days. Of those 266 days included were 143 days that she was paid for not working while the city conducted “an investigation” and then negotiated a severance package.
Technically, Reyes worked less than Wells at 132 days before she was essentially placed on paid leave. But in terms of being on the municipal payroll for the shortest time that mark belongs to Wells.
Wells’ last job as city manager was in Turlock where he was that city’s sixth either permanent or interim city manager since 2015 when he was hired in March of 2020. Eight months later after a new Turlock council was elected, friction developed between Wells and three council members prompting him to be placed on paid administrative leave. In May of 2021 the Turlock City Council approved a settlement agreement with Wells.
Wells, who worked for the city of Modesto as an engineer before Manteca gave him a three-year contract starting at $230,000 annually, worked for six years as city manager of Ceres. Wells — when he was hired — was Manteca’s sixth city manager in six years.
If he is terminated for any reason other than cause from Manteca’s employment, Wells will receive any accrued administrative leave and vacation as well as a lump sum of six months of severance pay that based on the contract and his initial salary would be $115,000.
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