State

Hughson report stirs concerns

HUGHSON — A stroll down Hughson Avenue didn't find groups of residents discussing their City Council or a civil grand jury report advocating the ouster of the majority of the members because of their misconduct in office — most folks seemed unaware of the issue.

But a day after the report came out, some residents expressed concern about their city and its government.

In the meantime, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department is continuing an investigation in Hughson, a city that has had more than its share of political upheaval in recent years.

Sheriff's officials won't say what they're looking into, but union representatives filed a complaint claiming administrators secretly were recording employees.

"It wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment at this time," Sheriff Adam Christianson said Wednesday.

He also couldn't estimate how much longer the case will take.

"There is some digital evidence we need to collect," he said. "And we want to make sure we get this right the first time."

The Stanislaus County civil grand jury conducted an investigation and released its findings Tuesday.

Grand jurors found no willful misconduct on the part of city staff, but determined that Councilmen Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley violated state open meeting law by discussing city business in e-mails, and conspired against Hughson administrators.

The Sheriff's Department won't investigate the allegations in the grand jury's report.

"Typically, (Fair Political Practices Commission) violations are handled by the district attorney's office," Christianson said.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager said her office will get involved after the attorney general has its turn.

"If it has been sent to the AG's office, they will do a review and we will not become involved unless they refer it back to us," she said.

The grand jury said Crowder, Humphreys and Manley should resign, be removed from office or be subject to a recall election.

City 'can't afford a recall'

Jean Henley, a planning commissioner and former city councilwoman, said she'd like to see the three men step down if what the grand jury says is true.

"Hughson can't afford a recall vote," she said.

Henley said the situation is a continuing embarrassment for the city of 6,000 residents.

"To be a city council person, you can't have your own personal agenda," she said Wednesday. "You have to do what's best for the city."

If the three are removed or step down, it would be the second time the City Council is left without a majority.

In late 2000, three council members — including Crowder, who lost a mayoral re-election bid — resigned within weeks. That left only two council members, and no majority.

At that time, the city attorney found the two could act to appoint a third member, giving the council the quorum it needed to vote.

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

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