HUGHSON — The day after a fractious council meeting, the most polarizing man in town said he is ready to move forward with a fresh beginning and a new city manager.
But a citizens' group hasn't given up on removing Thom Crowder and two other councilmen from office.
Citizens for Better City Government, formed in the aftermath of a grand jury report that found Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley broke the law, is meeting this week to discuss a recall election.
Candice Steelman, a member of the group and vocal critic of the three councilmen, said she's not sure she and her group will pursue the recall because of the work it takes. The group hopes for action from a letter it sent to the attorney general's office, asking for removal of the men.
She called Monday night's agenda, which included items aimed at City Manager Joe Donabed and City Attorney John Stovall, "another example of vengeance at its worst."
Crowder said Tuesday that the group, while vocal, represents only a minority of Hughson residents. He called them "contentious little rats. Those are not my constituents. My constituents aren't working against the city of Hughson."
A divided council voted Monday night not to renew Donabed's contract when it expires in May.
"I'm looking forward to working with somebody that has new ideas, fresh ideas that will put all these Henny Pennys to rest who say the sky is falling," Crowder said.
The city has about 20 applications on file from last year, when Crowder, Humphreys and Manley voted to fire Donabed. They later reversed the decision.
The Stanislaus County civil grand jury said in a report issued last month that the three violated the Brown Act — the California open meeting law — by conferring on issues over e-mail and plotting to remove Donabed.
One person Crowder insisted won't be the new city manager is the old city manager.
Critics have claimed that Crowder, Humphreys and Manley wanted to get rid of Donabed so they could replace him with Dave Whiteside, the city's former police chief and city manager.
"Absolutely not," Crowder said.
As for Donabed, he said Monday night's decision came as no surprise. And he plans to be at work every day through May 1, "doing the same job I've been doing."
Crowder denied allegations made Monday that he, Humphreys and Manley colluded again last week when all three asked to place an item on the council agenda to discipline or dismiss Sto-vall.
"How is that not a Brown Act violation?" Councilman Matt Beekman said. "What are you guys, psychic?"
"I had no idea anybody else requested it except me," Crowder said Tuesday. "You could just as well say that (Mayor Ramon) Bawanan and Beekman are a conspiracy of two."
Crowder said he asked for the closed-session item on Stovall because he felt misled by the city attorney, and that Stovall's allegiance seemed to be to Donabed rather than the City Council. Still, he didn't want to see Stovall fired. The council did not act on the item.
"John's been with us a long time," Crowder said. "I respect him, I like John. I just want him to understand who he works for."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.