Attorney General Jerry Brown won't remove three Hughson councilmen from their seats, despite a request from the Stanislaus County civil grand jury to do so.
In a response to presiding Judge Jack Jacobson, Supervising Deputy Attorney General Susan Duncan Lee said the issue should be sent to the local district attorney's office for investigation.
Foreman Denis France said the grand jury hasn't met since the response was issued. Though anything discussed in a grand jury proceeding is confidential, he said jurors would consider the letter and further action is possible.
In December, the grand jury issued a report finding that Councilmen Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley violated a state open meeting law, conspired 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.
Jurors required responses within 90 days from the Fair Political Practices Commission, the Hughson City Council and the attorney general.
The FPPC has the authority to fine council members for wrongdoing, but can't remove them from office. Hughson Mayor Ramon Bawanan wrote a response in which he agreed with all the grand jury's findings. That response is on the City Council's agenda Monday night.
In the letter to Jacobson, Lee pointed out that "the grand jury was mistaken when it stated that a response is 'required' from this office ... The attorney general's office is not under the reviewing authority of the Stanislaus County grand jury."
"I think if you saw the letter from the attorney general, they were just being nice," Jacobson said. "It's up to the foreperson and the grand jury as to whether they want to follow up on that."
Councilmen won't resign
The grand jury report also asked the three councilmen to resign; they have refused. Crowder called the report incomplete, and said the grand jury owes him an apology for missing the real misconduct in the city. He said the matter started when he began looking into computer files missing from the city.
Public Works Director David Chase faces felony charges on accusations of destroying accounting files and deleting building permits. Crowder said the case against Chase should have vindicated him.
Chase pleaded not guilty Thursday, said defense attorney Paul Goyette. A preliminary hearing is set for April 27.
A citizens group that is working to recall Crowder, Humphreys and Manley is hopeful the district attorney's office will take action, but isn't counting on it.
Dianne David said Citizens for Better City Government has placed legal notices and is gathering the necessary signatures for a recall election.
"If the district attorney came along in the meantime and decided to remove them from office, that would stop our recall," she said. "But at this point, we can't just wait."
Crowder said Friday that he is preparing his own response to the grand jury report. And it will be quite different from Bawanan's.
"I think the grand jury is just plain wrong," he said. The serial meetings the grand jury said the three men conducted by e-mail came from a misunderstanding, Crowder said.
Crowder said he sent e-mails to just one other councilman -- Manley -- who forwarded them to Humphreys.
"I place the blame at the city administration and the city attorney," Crowder said. "These guys didn't get proper training when they were new to the council."
A performance evaluation for City Attorney John Stovall also is on Monday night's agenda.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.