Four people vying in a Hughson City Council recall election agree on a lot of the issues the community is facing. But they were most vocal about one: the need to heal a city torn apart by bickering and accusations over the past several months.
George Carr, Gary Houx, Jill Silva and Jeramy Young offered their views at a Bee editorial board meeting Thursday evening. Candidates Billy Gonzales and Michael Osguera did not attend. Incumbents Thom Crowder and Doug Humphreys, targeted by the recall, also were invited but did not attend. Crowder has said he is not going to fight the recall effort.
All of the candidates stressed the need for transparency: Crowder, Humphreys and Councilman Ben Manley — who since has resigned — were accused in a Stanislaus County grand jury report of breaking state meeting law and conspiring to fire then-City Manager Joe Donabed.
Houx and Young are seeking Humphreys' seat.
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"We need to have an open line of communication," Houx said. "There has to be transparency in everything we do. ... and accountability, for the council, the city manager and city staff, all the way down."
Young said he would like to put together citizen committees to advise and guide the City Council.
"Some people are going to have different perspectives," he said. "I think that's great. We need to encourage them to come forward."
Carr, who along with Osguera is seeking Crowder's seat, said the hiring of a city manager is of paramount importance.
"We need to bring in a qualified person to bring structure back to City Hall and city staff," he said. "Someone who will bring cohesiveness back to City Hall."
All of the candidates agreed that the city manager choice is vital, though it's not clear if the council will hire somebody before the election. Donabed's contract expired in June; Planning and Community Development Director Thom Clark is serving temporarily, but doesn't want the job permanently. A council committee interviewed candidates last week; a council meeting this week was canceled when only two council members attended. The city has a special meeting Monday night, when a report on the search is planned.
Of all the candidates, Silva and Gonzales know for sure that one of them will have a council seat after the Aug. 24 election. They are seeking the seat formerly held by Manley, who resigned earlier this month.
"Getting the budget on course is critical," Silva said. Hughson is operating a month into the new fiscal year without a city budget.
Her first priority, Silva said, is to reach out to the people who have been hurt by Hughson's rocky recent history.
"There is tension everywhere you look in the city," she said. "We need to improve those relationships."
The other candidates offered similar views.
"We need to put a positive light back on the city of Hughson and its residents," Carr said.
Young emphasized respect and integrity.
"The next City Council must have those qualities," he said. "The community must trust its leadership. Right now I think there's a lack of trust."
Houx said it's going to take some time to get Hughson on the right track.
"This city is hurt and tattered right now," Houx said. "There are some people with long-term friendships that have cuts and deep wounds. The work has to start on Aug. 25, or we won't heal."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.