Council candidates start campaigning in Hughson

July 25, 2010 

PG Recall Signs 2

(PATTY GUERRA/pguerra@modbee.com) Signs for the City Council recall election and for specific candidates have sprouted up around town. They line the front of a Shell station on Third Street. July 20, 2010

PATTY GUERRA — Modesto Bee

HUGHSON -- It's summertime in a midterm year, but campaign season is gearing up in Stanislaus County's smallest city.

Signs have sprouted up around town, committees are gathering to plan and candidates are going door to door ahead of the Aug. 24 election that will ask residents if the majority of the City Council should be removed and if so, who should take the seats.

Jeramy Young canvasses neighborhoods and talks to voters.

"People have been very supportive," said Young, who seeks the seat held by Doug Humphreys. "A lot of the people are fed up with the way local politics are going."

The recall targeted Humphreys and Councilmen Thom Crowder and Ben Manley after a Stanislaus County civil grand jury report in December found the three had broken state open government law by conspiring to fire then-City Manager Joe Donabed. The grand jury further found that Crowder tried to use his elected position to secure a job with a competing company that had considered buying Hughson Ambulance, which he owns.

Jill Silva, who is seeking Manley's seat, said she started with signs on the lawns of people she knows.

"That generated people calling and sending me text messages, saying 'Hey, I want a sign'," she said.

She planned a meeting with her committee this weekend. "Then we'll start going and hitting all the doors," she said.

One of the first goals is education; the candidates said they've heard from some people who aren't familiar with the upheaval in the city. Others said they thought if enough people signed the recall petition the councilmen would lose their seats. The petition only got the matter before voters.

The largest signs in town promote the recall itself; others advocate specific candidates. None of them represent the incumbents.

Humphreys refused to comment; Manley said he hadn't decided what, if anything, he would do to fight the recall.

"If I do something, it'll be in the next week or so," he said.

Crowder said he's done. He's not fighting the recall, and if he makes it through the August election, he won't run to keep his seat in November, when his term concludes.

"Let them do what they want. I leave with my head held high," said Crowder, who claims the grand jury targeted the three councilmen and ignored bigger problems at City Hall. "I feel good about what I've done. But I'm through. This whole process has left a horrible taste in my mouth."

But first, Crowder said, he has one more task to complete: helping hire a city manager. The council started interviewing candidates earlier this month; he, Manley and Humphreys voted to continue the plan to get somebody on board by the middle of August. Mayor Ramon Bawanan and Councilman Matt Beekman wanted to wait.

Crowder said the job of finding a city manager is too important to leave to what could be a brand-new council; the terms of Beekman and Bawanan also end in November.

"You'd have people with absolutely no or zero experience, who have never worked with city managers in the past," he said. "I think we're more qualified as a city council to make that decision."

On Monday's agenda, Bawanan wants the council to consider appointing a committee of residents to interview the job candidates.

Crowder is against it.

"I don't think that's within the mayor's purview," Crowder said. "I don't think that's appropriate at all."

Outside of that issue, City Council meetings have been fairly quiet since the recall election was set, moving back from the larger community center to the council chamber. But some believe the city manager appointment will bring argument -- and an audience -- back to the meetings and the topic back to lunch counters and the streets in town.

"It's kind of mellowed out," said Jean Henley-Hatfield, a longtime resident and one of the recall backers. "But I think people still have issues."

Silva agreed.

"I'm wondering if it won't kind of get regenerated," she said. "I was shocked at what they're trying to do. I can't wait to see what comes out of Monday's meeting."

The Hughson City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 7018 Pine St.

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

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