State

Hughson council does U-turn after firing city manager

HUGHSON — Joe Donabed is expected back at work Monday as city manager. But nobody has told him.

After a closed session discussion, the council voted 5-0 late Monday to "rescind the 30-day notification letter to Joe Donabed and to order him back to work Monday the 30th," said acting City Manager Thom Clark.

Donabed, who has been on administrative leave since the council started termination proceedings against him in October, said Tuesday he has not been notified of the council's decision.

He would not comment further.

Clark said Tuesday that the city's special counsel, Shelline Bennett, was to contact Donabed or his lawyer about the decision. She could not be reached Tuesday.

If Donabed returns, Clark said, his original contract still will be in place.

"The council started the process and did not complete the termination process," he said. "They rescinded their letter."

Donabed's contract calls for the 30-day notice, followed by a final vote. That vote, and the appointment of a temporary city manager, were scheduled Monday night.

Council members, facing a crowd of about 100 people, delayed that action. After returning from a closed session discussion about 10:30 p.m., they voted to keep Donabed in his job.

Mayor Ramon Bawanan, who voted against dismissing Donabed in October, said Tuesday he could not discuss the matter.

"I would have to hold off," he said. "I think it's important that our attorney talk to Joe's attorney. I want to be fair to Joe."

Donabed's apparent ouster ignited an uproar in Hughson, with some residents accusing City Council members Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley of rigging the termination so they could bring back former City Manager Dave Whiteside.

The three voted to hire Whiteside, who worked for Hughson's risk management company, but Whiteside withdrew from consideration earlier this month before a final vote on the interim city manager was taken. He later applied for the job, and was among 12 contenders the council was to consider Monday night.

Clark, the city's planning and community development director, said he hopes Monday night's decision is the end of turmoil in Hughson for awhile. He said he's ready to give up one of the many administrative hats he's been wearing.

Bawanan agreed that it's been a difficult time for the city. At one point, the council agenda included an item proposing to reprimand him for undisclosed actions.

Still, the mayor said, he is enjoying his work.

"You have the opportunity to serve the public," Bawanan said. "Maybe I'm nuts, but I'd rather be up there (on the dais) than in the audience."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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