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Hughson council spars over streets, reviews manager

HUGHSON — The City Council evaluated City Manager Joe Donabed in a special meeting Tuesday night, after some council members claimed they were misled on the details of a street maintenance project.

It was the second review in two weeks for Donabed, but council members took no action.

City Attorney John Stovall warned council members that they did not have the power to "fire or discipline" City Clerk Mary Hemminger or Public Works Director David Chase, who also were scheduled for closed-session evaluations before Mayor Ramon Bawanan yanked their reviews from the agenda.

Stovall told council members they could hire, fire or discipline only the city manager and that the city manager oversees city staff.

The controversy Tuesday night stemmed from a street maintenance project nearing completion. The project, unanimously approved by the council May 26, relied on $400,000 in state money to rehabilitate local roads. It did not target Hughson's worst streets, but spread the money around to keep better roads from falling into disrepair, saving the city money in future upkeep, according to staff members.

Councilmen Thom Crowder and Doug Humphreys said they've been inundated with e-mails and Facebook.com comments from people asking why the worst-looking roads were ignored.

"You can march 100 engineers to my doorstep, and I'm still going to disagree with you," Crowder said. "I think it's absolutely ridiculous."

Councilman Ben Manley spun a scenario, asking Chase what would happen if a car hit a pothole, blew out a tire, swerved and killed a pedestrian.

"Who's going to be at fault?" Manley asked.

"I think that's an unfair question," Bawanan shot back.

Councilman Matt Beekman said relying on a visual inspection of roads, rather than the scientific process of lasers, cameras, computers and sensors used to evaluate all Hughson's streets, was "inappropriate."

Tuesday's meeting was another in a series of contentious moments between some council members and city staff.

In April, Crowder sparred with employees over a $40 bill for coffee and cried foul over $320 spent at a tire store in Modesto instead of in Hughson.

Crowder also asked for a city investigative committee to check into "particular allegations," but he gave no specifics. He later told The Hughson Chronicle that city staff was showing "willfull misconduct."

Donabed said he filed paperwork with the Stanislaus County civil grand jury to check into Crowder's claims against city staffers.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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