Hughson: 'No option' but to move for recall

2-2 council vote leaves grand jury finding of conspiracy unapproved

February 8, 2010 

HUGHSON — Residents continued to demand the resignations of three city councilmen targeted in a Stanislaus County civil grand jury report and said they have launched a recall effort.

"I am truly saddened for the community and the citizens," said George Carr, chairman of the Citizens for Better City Government. "At this point, with your refusal to acknowledge the grand jury's report, the work that went into that, the findings, at this point we have no other option. To avoid that we would truly like to ask that you step down or the proceedings will continue."

Carr's group announced at Monday night's City Council meeting that it is circulating recall petitions, the first step in the process.

In December, the grand jury issued a report finding that Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley violated state meeting law conspiring to fire City Manager Joe Donabed and pushed their agenda ahead of the city's. The grand jury said the three should step down or be removed from office.

Humphreys did not attend Monday night's City Council meeting; Crowder and Manley did not respond to the statements. But after the meeting, Crowder said the calls for his resignation were "nauseating."

He said the grand jury's investigation was incomplete and ignored pertinent information regarding wrongdoing in the city administration.

As for the people who want to see him step down, he said they should run for office if they think they can do a better job.

"They should put their names on the ballot or shut up," he said.

The city's response to the grand jury report was included in Monday night's agenda. Mayor Ramon Bawanan drafted the response, though City Attorney John Stovall said the council needed to vote on it because it technically comes from the city.

Bawanan's proposed response agreed with the grand jury's findings that the three councilmen should lose their seats, the council should conduct due diligence in searching for a new city manager and be more transparent in its decision making, and that officials should get more training in the Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law.

The motion failed to get council approval, stalling on a 2-2 vote, with Bawanan and Councilman Matt Beekman in favor and Crowder and Manley against. Bawanan said he will put the matter on the council's next meeting agenda, when he hopes a full council will be on hand to consider it.

Bawanan questioned Crowder on the logistics of teleconferencing into City Council meetings when he undergoes surgery on his right knee in San Francisco next month. The council earlier approved Crowder's request to take part from the hospital, with the caveat that he be in a place that is open to the public and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bawanan said a nurse from a local hospital contacted him and said that kind of access would not be allowed where she worked. So he called St. Mary's in San Francisco, where he was told there is a limit of two visitors per room.

"I heard there were a number of individuals who wanted to attend the meeting there," Bawanan said. He asked Crowder to supply some kind of documentation that they would be accommodated.

Crowder said later that he has assurances from the hospital that he will be moved to a larger room if needed and there will be room for anyone who wants to visit. He pointed out that one of the things the grand jury faulted Crowder for doing was trying to start an investigation by not going through the city manager.

"An investigation — isn't that what the mayor just did by calling the hospital?" Crowder said.

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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