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Hughson residents ‘embarrassed’ by their own city council

POSTED November 10, 2009 8:58 p.m.
Hughson residents packed City Hall Monday night and stood in line to give City Council members a piece of their minds.
“The people of Hughson are here tonight because they are concerned,” said Candice Steelman, former Hughson planning commissioner. “We are not going to let wrong slip by us.”
Hughson residents voiced their concerns Monday night about a possible violation of the Brown Act in the notice of termination of City Manager Joe Donabed and the possible replacement of the city manager by David Whiteside before the current city manager is terminated.  
As Hughson residents waited for the public comment section of the city council meeting, City Attorney John Stovall caught them off guard by announcing that David Whiteside would like to withdraw from consideration for the City Manager Pro Tempore position due to not being able to get a leave of absence from his work.
With one concern brushed aside by Stovall, Hughson residents didn’t hesitate to give the city council an ear full of how embarrassed they were of the recent actions taking Hughson by storm.
“I am embarrassed of the recent events of the City of Hughson,” said Jean Henley-Hatfield. “I used to have a sense of pride. Now my pride is gone and I am just embarrassed.”   
Henley-Hatfield suggested that the council members read their code of conduct again to reassure them of why they are on the council — to represent the people of Hughson, she said.
With her comments followed by a round of applause more people started raising their hands to let the city council know that they weren’t going to stand by and let them do wrong in their city.
At one point, community member Bob Newman asked Stovall, “Is there a procedure to impeach city council members?”
Stovall hesitantly replied that a recall election could be held and the community must speak to another attorney about that procedure.
The community started to worry about their councilmembers on Oct. 19 when the Hughson City Council voted 3-to-2 during a closed session to file a termination notice for Hughson City Manager Joe Donabed.
Donabed is currently on paid administrative leave until the city council comes to a final decision on Nov. 23, but he is still technically the city manager. Since there is currently no active city manager, Thomas Clark has taken on the role of interim city manager along with his daily job as planning and building director for the City of Hughson.
With Clark providing the services for multiple jobs, councilmembers decided 24 hours in advance to have a special meeting Thursday to nominate former city manager David Whiteside as the city manager pro tempore.
To have a special meeting, the mayor must call the meeting or it must be called by three city councilmembers in case of emergency. Councilmember Thom Crowder called the special meeting with the support of Ben Manley and Doug Humphreys. Crowder was not present at Monday’s meeting.  
“I believe the three councilmembers -- Ben Manley, Doug Humphreys, and Thom Crowder -- discussed this special meeting previously behind closed doors to put Whiteside on the council,” she said. “That is a violation of the Brown Act.”   
Steelman went on to question the chances of all three councilmembers coincidentally thinking the same thing — appointing Whiteside as the city manager pro tempore.
Many Hughson residents asked why a special meeting was called two days before a regular city council meeting.
With most votes ending, like this one, with a 3-to-2 vote — the three being Manley, Humphreys and Crowder against the two, Mayor Ramon Bawanan and Matt Beekman — Henley-Hatfield said she is worried that it will always be the three against the two, with the three having their own personal agenda.
Former Hughson Mayor Ken Moore also voiced his concerns at Monday’s meeting.
“I was on the council to represent the city of Hughson,” Moore said. “I don’t like seeing people get on the council with a personal agenda.”
Along with unhappy residents of Hughson, the city council must now also deal with a potential lawsuit. Donabed’s lawyer is threatening litigation regarding the allegations asserted in the Oct. 20 “notice” of the city’s intention to remove Donabed as city manager.
Bawanan thanked the concerned residents and encouraged Clark to look to the League of California Cities in search of qualified candidates to take the position of city manager pro tempore.
Bawanan ended the contentious meeting by saying, “we are big enough to take the hits and if we deserve them then we deserve them.”
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.
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