State

Hughson city manager issue before council

Struggling to set a new direction, the Hughson City Council tonight is scheduled to vote on items that could result in the appointment of a temporary city manager and a censure for Mayor Ramon Bawanan.

The council has presented a disorderly front to the public since it signaled its intent to dismiss City Manager Joe Donabed with a 3-2 vote Oct. 19.

Donabed remains on the city payroll but is on administrative leave. The council was expected to vote on firing him permanently tonight, but that measure was left off of the agenda.

Council members aren't sure why.

"I don't know what's going on," Councilman Ben Manley said. "They keep us in the dark too much. It just doesn't seem that we get the information we ask for."

Manley with Councilmen Thom Crowder and Doug Humphreys voted to oust Donabed last month. They also voted Nov. 5 to appoint former City Manager Dave Whiteside to take Donabed's place on a temporary basis.

Whiteside later declined, but the vote to hire him without considering other candidates stoked a perception in the community that the council majority had Whiteside picked all along for the post.

Tonight, the council will get another chance to hire a temporary city manager. It can choose from two dozen applicants, including Whiteside. He says in his application cover letter that he's ready to hit the ground running to help Hughson through a difficult time.

"I have no intention on being the city manager permanently. It's just not what I'm looking to do," said Whiteside, who also was the city's police chief during his career.

"My goal is only to help them in a very short period of time," he said.

Councilman Matt Beekman, who with Bawanan voted against firing Donabed and against appointing an interim city manager, said he's not ready to appoint Donabed's successor, even on a temporary basis.

"Hiring someone the same day, that'd be rushing the process," he said. "We need to get the best person we can."

He said the council's votes over the past month have cultivated a perception of "a lack of openness, a lack of transparency" in Hughson.

Two other items on the council agenda are sure to draw more heated discussions.

Manley placed an item on the agenda that suggests Bawanan has overstepped his authority in some way. Manley refused to describe how. He said he wanted that discussion to take place in closed session out of the public's eye and was surprised to see it prepared for an open meeting.

Manley also placed an item on the agenda to highlight a rebuke Public Works Director David Chase received from the state Water Resources Control Board for misrepresenting his qualifications to work in the city waste- water treatment plant. Like Donabed, Chase is on leave.

Lawsuits also are coming before the council. It's scheduled to discuss potential litigation in the open meeting and in a closed session. Donabed has hired an attorney who has notified the city that Donabed is considering a lawsuit.

The City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 7018 Pine St.

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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