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Controversy erupts in city manager selection process

POSTED July 27, 2010 11:22 p.m.

On the path to a fresh start, the Hughson City Council on Monday tasked a committee with the job of interviewing city manager candidates. However, the process of finding Joe Donabed’s replacement has already hit a bump in the road with council members and the mayor exchanging cross words over selection of committee members.

Mayor Ramon Bawanan selected the committee members, which include himself, council member Doug Humphreys, Planning Commissioner Alan McFadon, former mayor Ken Moore and Hughson Elementary School Principal Brenda Vaca, with Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa as an alternate.

Council members weren’t too happy with the selection of Moore and Vaca together because of their family relation.

“In my family we tend to think alike and follow along the same lines,” Humphreys said. “We need more of a broad spectrum. Having a father and daughter is not diverse.”

Bawanan assured the council that between his three daughters, agreement is not always reached and he urged the council to approve the “package deal” of the committee members.

“Even though I hold Ken and Brenda at high esteem, Brenda could be a bit of a conflict,” said Councilman Thom Crowder.

The first motion died due to a lack of a second and, after some discussion, a second motion was made by Humphreys.

“I’ll second that and respect the process because I am tired of stalling,” Crowder said.

The motion passed 3-1 with Council member Ben Manley against the motion.

If the council did not approve the selected candidates for the committee, Bawanan would have had to bring back a new list of committee members at the next council meeting scheduled for Aug. 9. However, the final interviews for the city manager are scheduled for Aug. 2.

Another option would have been to schedule a special meeting, which Humphreys suggested for Wednesday to avoid the “obvious delays,” but Bawanan said he could not provide additional names by that time as it took him two weeks or so to gather the names he presented to the council on Monday.

The council went forward with pursuing a committee for the interviewing process for the city manager position to follow the recommendations provided by the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury in their December 2009 findings.

The December 2009 Civil Grand Jury report found council members Manley, Crowder and Humphreys in violation of the Brown Act, the Hughson Municipal Code and the Fair Political Practices Code and Regulations.

The specific recommendation the council is following is the one recommending “the City Council practice due diligence in initiating an outside search for any city manager hired in the future.”          

Hughson City Council members responded by assuring the grand jury that they would hire an outside recruiting source to find a city manager and form an interviewing panel comprised of the mayor, a city council member, a member of either the planning commission or the parks and recreation commission and two Hughson residents that are selected by the mayor.

But some felt the recommendation of the grand jury wasn’t being followed as stated.

“They wanted transparency and the members selected are members of Better City Government so that is not transparent,” Crowder said. “We need people without personal agendas. I don’t understand why (Bawanan) is so hesitant when (Bawanan) isn’t being transparent.”

The group Citizens for a Better City Government was the driving force behind the petition for a recall election for council members Humphreys, Manley and Crowder.

Bawanan replied that “whether they are part of the recall or not, democrat or republican, I don’t care.”

Manley also felt that the council’s response to the grand jury findings was not something that the council had to follow, he said.

“This is not set in stone,” Manley said. “We don’t have to abide by that.”

To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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