HUGHSON -- The City Council on Monday delayed a contentious decision to appoint a temporary city manager, relaxing some of the tension that drew about 100 people to its biweekly meeting.
Council members agreed to interview candidates for the job in an open meeting the week of Dec. 7, a move that defuses a sentiment in town that three of the elected representatives had picked former City Manager Dave Whiteside for the job even before they voted to begin firing City Manager Joe Donabed last month.
Donabed is out of City Hall on administrative leave while he awaits a final decision from the council. He has hired an attorney who has notified the council that Donabed is considering a lawsuit.
The three council members who voted to oust Donabed -- Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley -- also voted earlier this month to hire Whiteside as a temporary city manager.
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Whiteside declined, but has re-applied for the position with two dozen other candidates. He says he does not want the job permanently.
A handful of community members spoke during the public comment period Monday night, urging the council to hire someone other than Whiteside and to make the process an open one.
One speaker against employing Whiteside told Crowder, Humphreys and Manley that "it looks like you're rewarding your friends and stabbing your enemies."
The meeting showed a divided board, with Mayor Ramon Bawanan and Councilman Matt Beekman on one side and the three-member majority on the other. Bawanan and Beekman voted against firing Donabed in October and against appointing Whiteside to the temporary job earlier this month.
Conspiracy theories are aflutter and were discussed in some detail during the meeting.
Manley put an item on the agenda to reprimand Bawanan for overstepping his authority as mayor. Manley wanted to pull the item to talk about in closed session, but Bawanan wanted to discuss it.
The mayor said he could tolerate attacks against him, but disapproved of other employees being drawn into the city's political turmoil.
He cited a letter council members received from the city's employee union but did not describe the grievance. He said he forwarded the allegations to the Stanislaus County civil grand jury for review.
The council pulled an item from the agenda that would have drawn attention to a rebuke Public Works Director David Chase received earlier this fall from the state Water Resources Board for misrepresenting his qualifications to perform certain work in the waste-water treatment plant. Like Donabed, Chase is on leave. Manley had placed that item on the agenda.
Originally scheduled for City Council chambers, the meeting was moved next door to the Hughson Community Center to accommodate the crowd.
Most of the meeting occurred calmly under the watchful eye of a few police officers.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.