HUGHSON -- City Councilman Ben Manley abruptly resigned from the City Council Monday night, less than a month before a recall election that targets him and two other council members.
Manley resigned effective immediately, citing "physical and continued attacks my wife and I have suffered emotionally and physically" during the recall effort.
City Attorney Dan Schroeder said Manley's action doesn't affect the Aug. 24 recall election, except that the question of how to replace Manley will be moot. So either Jill Silva or Billy Gonzales, who are on the recall ballot for Manley's seat will serve the remainder of his term, which expires in two years.
The recall effort targeted Manley and Councilmen Thom Crowder and Doug Humphreys after the Stanislaus County civil grand jury found that the three conspired to fire then-City Manager Joe Donabed last year.
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On Monday, Manley denied the accusation and said he was only trying to investigate a harmful working environment at City Hall.
"This entire cover-up has been created by a small handful of people who want to run the community," he said. "I am a strong Christian man, and the accusations against me are not true. I did not commit any violation."
He said he acted with the direction of then-City Attorney John Stovall when contacting other council members about Donabed.
Prior to Manley's announcement, City Council members met behind closed doors for the second time in three days.
The agenda for Monday night's meeting called for a discussion of a city manager appointment. The meeting came at the conclusion of the first of two rounds of interviews for the job being conducted by a committee of council members and community members. It followed a special closed-session meeting with the same topic Friday night.
Mayor Ramon Bawanan said Monday that the meetings were necessary to address complaints received by the city and the recruiter helping with the city manager selection.
"The two closed sessions were the only forum council could follow to review this matter," he said. "These meetings were held for no other reason."
Humphreys, who had requested Friday's meeting, said then it was intended to address a "benign, clerical issue" with the city's recruitment process. He disputed the idea that it was to appoint a new city manager or add a name to the list of candidates for interview.
Residents attending both meetings accused council members of trying to circumvent the system set up to recruit a new city manager.
At the council's last regular meeting, Crowder said he was concerned the recruiter didn't consider an applicant who had experience as a city manager; the rest of the finalists don't. Though he didn't offer a name, popular belief holds that he was talking about Dave Whiteside, who had served as city manager until 2001.
Neither Crowder nor Councilman Matt Beekman attended Monday's meeting; Bawanan and Beekman missed Friday's.