The City of Hughson is starting over with a clean slate in the new year. Three new council members joined the Hughson City Council after the recall election in August, and a new city manager was hired in September. Hughson will continue to see new faces at City Hall after the City Council approved the hiring of a new finance director on Monday. “Debbie Paul has officially retired from her position of finance director,” said City Manager Bryan Whitemyer at Monday’s meeting. Paul was one of several Hughson city employees who filed worker compensation claims stating the City of Hughson had a hostile work environment. Her claim was denied by Bickman Risk Services and Consulting, along with other workers’ compensation claims filed by city employees for stress-related concerns.The Hughson City Council approved plans to change the finance director job to a part-time interim position. Whitemyer announced that city staff plan to hire Margaret Souza to fill the position. Souza has more than 30 years experience in finance, and recently retired as finance director for the City of Patterson. She has also served in similar positions in Newman and Turlock. Souza will be paid $45 an hour, a rate that is above the normal pay scale for Hughson’s finance director position. However, Whitemyer said that the normal salary range does not include the benefits paid to a full-time employee. Souza will be part-time and not eligible for any employee benefits. “It’s actually less expensive to do it this way,” Whitemyer said. Only time will tell if a change in staff and council members will settle the tumultuous atmosphere felt around Hughson City Hall in the last few years. In May, City Manager Joe Donabed’s contract was not renewed on a split, 3-2 vote. Those council members who voted not to renew Donabed’s contract – Doug Humphreys, Thom Crowder, and Ben Manley – were targeted by a December 2009 Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury report as orchestrating the attempted firing of the city manager, city clerk and city engineer. All three were also found by the Grand Jury to be in violation of the Brown Act, Fair Political Practices and Regulations, and the Hughson Municipal Code. In April of 2010 Crowder spoke publicly about his attempt to expose a run-away government and protect city employees who complained of a hostile work environment. “That’s why (Crowder, Humphreys and Manley) are in trouble. They are trying to help us,” Paul said in April. Humphreys, Crowder, and Manley were recalled in an Aug. 24, 2010 special recall election. They were replaced by Jeramy Young, George Carr and Jill Silva. Whitemyer was hired to the Hughson city manager position on Sept. 27, 2010. With Paul’s recent retirement there are now only a handful of people left at the City of Hughson who were involved in any of the alleged events leading up to the recall election. “Now maybe we’ll clean up this mess,” said one member of the audience at Monday’s meeting.
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