For far too long, the people of Hughson have put up with a City Council plagued by petty politics, conflict and dysfunction.
Tuesday, the city's 3,000 registered voters will have an opportunity to recall a trio of controversial councilmen and replace them with three new faces.
There are two basic issues on the ballot. First, residents will decide whether to recall Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley, whose name still appears on the ballot even though he resigned earlier this month. Each vote will be separate.
Then, voters will elect the people who will replace council members should they be recalled. Two people are vying for each seat, with the top vote getter in each contest winning. That is in contrast to a regular Hughson council election, in which candidates run at-large and the top vote-getters in the field are elected.
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We've always been cautious about recalling elected officials, believing that action should be reserved for cases of egregious behavior that disrupts the ability of the elected body to carry out its duties.
But that is exactly what has happened in Hughson over the last year — and especially since December, when the Stanislaus County civil grand jury issued a scathing report that concluded that Crowder, Humphreys and Manley violated the Brown Act, the state open-meeting law, by conferring on issues over e-mail and plotting to remove the city manager.
The grand jury also found that Crowder violated the Fair Political Practices Act in promising to use political influence while seeking another the job.
The grand jury said all three should resign; they refused.
In the months since, Hughson council meetings have become something of a circus, with many 3-2 decisions. The city has been functioning without a permanent city manager and still does not have a formal budget for 2010-11.
Most of the city's nearly two dozen employees appear to be working admirably in the midst of this conflict. Construction is under way on a water treatment plant, and maintenance is being carried out.
But many things are not getting done, and they won't until there's a major change in the council.
We urge citizens to vote "yes" for all three recalls. Manley is already out, and Crowder, often the ringleader in the problems, did not file to run in November. Humphreys can be reasonable at times, but also has demonstrated a hot temper that interferes with his ability to work cooperatively with his colleagues.
The Bee invited all six challengers and Crowder and Humphreys to an editorial board meeting. Crowder and Humphreys did not respond. Five challengers did participate in our interview process and we share some thoughts about their strengths. Two recordings — one of a meeting with four candidates and the other a phone interview with challenger Billy Gonzales — can be found at www.modbee.com/video.
For Crowder's seat, George Carr has mounted a serious campaign, while Miguel Oseguera chose not to be interviewed, leaving us skeptical about how much he really wants the position. Carr chaired Citizens for Better City Government, which initiated the recall drive, and has served six years on the city Parks Commission. Fifteen of his 31 years with AT&T have been in management, providing useful experience in overseeing contracts and employees. Carr gets our nod.
For Humphreys' seat, the choice is between two solid candidates: Gary Houx, facilities manager for MedicAlert, and Jeramy Young, a sergeant for the Modesto Police Department.
Houx formerly ran his own business and has good questions about whether Hughson has the infrastructure to accommodate growth. He believes the council needs to be positive and focus on healing the community.
Young has a good sense of the need for government to function openly and for the council to consider not just current concerns over, for example, water, but to have a long-term vision.
We recommend either candidate.
For Manley's seat, the choice is between Jill Silva, a fourth- generation Hughsonite, and Billy Gonzales, who recently moved to Hughson from Ripon, where he ran unsuccessfully for that city's council in 2008.
Gonzales has knocked on the doors of regular voters in Hughson and hopes that a victory will launch him into the mayor's seat and on to other elective offices. He wants the city to encourage business, down to such details as safe sidewalks.
Silva, the assistant chief probation officer for Stanislaus County, has a strong understanding government budgets that could serve Hughson well at this time. She wants to make sure the city has an effective staff structure and is working well with other agencies, including the school and fire districts.
In this race, we favor Silva, whose experience and longevity in Hughson would allow her to be more effective from Day 1.
Hughson residents are fortunate to have such a strong field of candidates, nearly all of whom have the desire and ability to change the dynamic on the Hughson council.
Thus, we hope that every one of Hughson's 3,000 registered voters will take the time to mark their ballots.
The polls for Tuesday's special election will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; residents who vote by mail must turn in their ballots before 8 p.m. or mail them in time to reach the Stanislaus County election office before Tuesday night. A Tuesday postmark is not sufficient.