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Public calls for councilmen’s resignations

‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ says Hughson city council member

POSTED January 12, 2010 9:14 p.m.
Over 100 angry residents filled the Hughson Community Senior Center on Monday demanding the three council members that the Civil Grand Jury found “promoted their own agenda against the best interests of the citizens of Hughson” resign.
Two of the council members in question have stated that they will not resign and the third has been unavailable for comment.  
“I do no plan on resigning,” said Hughson City Council member Ben Manley. “It is a big misunderstanding.”
Councilmember Thom Crowder echoed his colleague’s position saying, “I will not resign, I've done nothing wrong.”
The third Hughson City Council member to come under fire after the release of the Dec. 22, 2009 Civil Grand Jury report, Doug Humphreys, has not returned calls made by the Journal. Humphreys and Crowder were both absent at Monday’s council meeting, leaving Manley to bear the brunt of the outraged residents’ remarks alone.
Mayor Ramon Bawanan also expressed his disappointment in the three councilmembers and his support of the Civil Grand Jury final report.  
“I have full trust in (the Civil Grand Jury), their findings and recommendations,” Bawanan said. “Their findings were accurate and their recommendations were appropriate.”
Bawanan then called for Crowder, Humphreys and Manley to resign immediately.
“If you believe that the city comes first, you must resign immediately. If you put your personal interests first, you must resign immediately. You forgot that as a member of the City Council you work for the residents, not the other way around,” he said. “You forgot that you serve the public, not the other way around.”
The Hughson City Council is required by law to respond to the four recommendations sent down by the Civil Grand Jury no later than 90 days after the findings were presented, said John Stovall, Hughson city attorney.
The four recommendations by the Civil Grand Jury were that Crowder, Humphreys and Manley resign, the City of Hughson practice due diligence in initiating an outside search for any city manager hired in the future, the city provide more detailed workshops on the Brown Act and follow the practice of open and transparent decision-making in the spirit of the Brown Act.
At Monday’s meeting, Manley requested the city hire outside legal counsel to defend the councilmembers against the findings in the Civil Grand Jury report, since Stovall testified with the Civil Grand Jury.
“Because the Civil Grand Jury’s report found violations against the three of you individually and personally, the City of Hughson should not provide any legal advice to the three of you, you should seek your own legal advice and pay for it personally,” Bawanan said.
With the exception of the first recommendation regarding the resignation of Humphreys, Crowder and Manley, the council moved forward with approving the other three recommendations. Manley voted “aye, with reservation.”
Bawanan will present a draft to complete the three recommendations by early February, he said.
Crowder, who recorded his 11th city council absence on Monday, requested to be able to teleconference into the meetings due to a number of surgeries he will be undergoing in the next couple of months that will make it difficult for him to attend the council meetings.
“The council has no duty to take in favor of or against,” said Daniel Schroeder, deputy city attorney.
To be able to allow Crowder to teleconference in the meeting, the public has the right to be present at the teleconference location even if it is at Crowder’s home, Schroeder said. The location where the teleconference is at must also be compliant with the Americans with Disability Act.
“Doing this would give him the benefit of the doubt and I am not doing that,” said Councilmember Matt Beekman. “Thom has violated our trust. If he can’t attend the meetings, then he shouldn’t be on the council period.”
Manley was the only one who voted in favor of Crowder’s request. The request was not approved.
With two council members on record saying they refuse to resign, the residents of Hughson have taken matters into their own hands.
They have formed a committee called the Citizens for Better City Government. On Tuesday, the committee sent a letter to the Attorney General requesting that Crowder, Humphreys and Manley be removed from office, said Diane David, a member of the committee. According to David, they have already called the Fair Political Practices and Regulations board and requested their help.  
The letter sent Tuesday had over 23 signatures and related other accounts where the three council members have broken the law.
The letter mentions the Nov. 5, 2009, special meeting called by Manley to appoint Dave Whiteside as city manager; Manley having a conflict of interest with Whiteside selling property; and Humphreys yelling incident during a high school football game on Oct. 30, 2009.
If the Attorney General will not remove the three council members from office, the Citizens for Better City Government will look into a recall election, said Candice Steelman, leader of the committee.
“Please do the right thing and resign,” Bawanan said. “And do so immediately. Let the city and its residents begin the healing process and that process can only begin with your resignation tonight.”
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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