HUGHSON -- Tensions that have consumed Stanislaus County's smallest city for weeks erupted Monday night, with accusations flying between City Council members and the public, even tears.
As they wrestled over whether to let City Manager Joe Donabed's contract expire -- they did -- and whether to allow Councilman Thom Crowder to participate in meetings by telephone -- they did -- the accusations flew:
"You're heartless guys. You're pathetic," Crowder told Councilman Matt Beekman and Mayor Ramon Bawanan, who voted against allowing Crowder to participate in meetings from a San Francisco hospital bed:
"You're unethical," Beekman fired back.
Bawanan renewed his call for Crowder and Councilmen Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley to resign in light of a grand jury report that found they broke the law.
Bawanan said some teenagers recently asked him at a crab feed what he intended to do. "I said I was thinking about asking them to resign, but that it would probably be a waste of time."
One of the teens replied that his grandfather said it's never a waste of time "when you do what's right."
"So I will continue at every regularly scheduled council meeting to ask for your three resignations," Bawanan said. "The well of trust has been contaminated. You must uncontaminate our well."
In a report issued last month, the Stanislaus County civil grand jury said that Crowder, Humphreys and Manley should resign.
Grand jurors found that the three violated a state public meeting law by conferring on issues over e-mail and plotting to remove Donabed. It found that Crowder violated the state Political Reform Act by trying to influence council decisions pertaining to property near his home and in promising to use political influence while seeking a job.
The same three Monday voted to let Donabed's contract expire, though Bawanan tried to block them from doing so by pointing to the grand jury report.
City Attorney John Stovall said that the three could vote on Donabed's contract because it was a separate action from the ones that got them in the grand jury's spotlight.
Humphreys and Crowder said they wanted to exercise the nonrenewal on Donabed's contract -- which calls for 90 days' notice -- because they want the city to go in a "different direction."
"I also feel that on multiple occasions this council has been misled and given inaccurate information," Crowder said. "That's caused our city to appear that it's dysfunctional when in fact it is not."
Council members voted 3-2, with Beekman and Bawanan against the motion, to exercise the nonrenewal.
The back and forth sent several residents to the speaker's lectern. Among them was Jean Henley, a longtime resident and former council member recently reappointed to the Planning Commission.
Henley spoke before the council went into closed session to discuss discipline or dismissal of Stovall.
"I think that one of those issues brought to John was about the Planning Commission," she said, tears choking her voice. "I'm so embarrassed that I'm resigning tonight. ... I'm just getting an upset stomach."
Bawanan talked her out of resigning immediately, asking to speak with her about the matter later.
"They're disingenuous phonies," resident Henry Hes-ling said after the meeting about Crowder, Humphreys and Manley.
"They're making these decisions and they're not out of the woods yet. They could still be charged with a crime."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.