Hughson council tells city manager he's out of a job

HUGHSON — The city manager hired to clean up a mess left by his predecessor is himself out of work.

During an hourlong closed session Monday, a divided City Council voted to give Joe Donabed "notice of intent to terminate his contract." Councilmen Doug Humphreys, Ben Manley and Thom Crowder voted in favor of firing Donabed, with Mayor Ramon Bawanan and Councilman Matt Beekman voting against, City Attorney John Stovall said.

With an identical vote, the council suspended Donabed, effective immediately, "pending the ultimate vote to carry out the intent to terminate." That vote will take place in 30 days, the notice required by Donabed's contract, Crowder said.

Council members would not otherwise comment after the meeting.

Planning Commissioner Candice Steelman chastised council members before they convened their closed-door talks for the action she anticipated they were about to take.

"Some months ago I came before you to discuss my concern with rumors that were pretty rife in this city," she said. "I was concerned three of you were getting together and having an agenda to get rid of certain people." She said the council denied it.

Steelman referred to a January meeting during which Crowder and Humphreys, sitting outside a closed session because of a conflict of interest, were heard discussing their desire to get rid of three employees. The conversation was caught on the city's recording of the meeting.

In June, the council scheduled evaluations for City Clerk Mary Hemminger and Public Works Director David Chase, but pulled them from the agenda after Stovall told them they could not discipline or fire them. Those positions report to the city manager. Hemminger and Chase have since resigned.

"It would have been better in an open meeting to say we have a problem and we'd like to discuss it," Steelman said. "I think the people of this community are really tired of the good-old-boy network, and we'd like to see people working together."

Crowder asked staff for a copy of the recording.

Donabed's latest three-year contract went into effect on May 1, 2007. It provides him two months of severance pay for each year of work, up to six months. He also gets paid for unused sick leave, vacation and paid holidays. His pay in 2008 was $118,758.

The council hired him in 2003 after Bob Wilburn resigned amid accusations that he advised then-Mayor Bart Conner that he could use city credit cards for personal expenses.

Donabed also got a developer to complete a promised eight-acre park, updated the city's general plan and found a way to finish downtown street improvements delayed because of cost overruns.

He also proposed hefty sewer and water rate increases to pay for improvements to the city's system.

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.