HUGHSON -- Mayor Ramon Bawanan on Monday demanded that three city councilmen named in a blistering grand jury report resign immediately.
"You have violated the public's trust and forever damaged your ability to serve on this council," he said of Councilmen Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley. "You forgot that as a member of the City Council you work for the residents, not the other way around."
Manley was the only one of the three to attend Monday night's City Council meeting, moved from City Hall to the Community Senior Center to accommodate a large crowd.
Councilman Matt Beekman, who was not identified in the report, also called for his council colleagues to leave their seats.
"We cannot govern when people are not following the rules," he said. "I was really hoping I'd come here today and people would be accountable and apologize."
The council considered a response to the Stanislaus County civil grand jury's findings that the elected officials must perform due diligence in their next search for a city manager, take more training on the state law that governs public meetings and conduct their business more transparently.
In its report issued last month, the grand jury found that Crowder, Humphreys and Manley violated the Brown Act, the state public meeting law, by conferring on issues via e-mail and plotting to remove City Manager Joe Donabed.
It also found that Crowder violated the state Political Reform Act by trying to influence council decisions pertaining to property near his home and in promising to use political influence while seeking a job.
The city is required to respond to the report within 90 days, City Attorney John Stovall said.
Manley suggested hiring an outside attorney to respond to the grand jury on the city's behalf.
He said Stovall's office "should be totally excluded" because Stovall was called to testify before the grand jury.
He also disagreed with a suggestion from Bawanan that the mayor work with Donabed on the response. Manley said Donabed should be excluded because he testified as well.
Bawanan pointed out that he testified before the grand jury. And, he said, as far as the city's response, it's pretty clear: Hughson will do what's recommended.
Bawanan said the city would plan to conduct any searches for a city manager with due diligence, get more training on the Brown Act within the next two months, and promise to make its decision-making more transparent.
"We could respond quite easily," he said.
A motion to have Bawanan come up with a draft response from the city by early next month passed 3-0, with Manley voting "aye, with reservations."
As for the allegations against Crowder, Humphreys and Manley, Bawanan said they should hire their own attorneys.
"Because you're named separately and personally, I don't think it would be in the best interest of the city to represent you," he said.
Several residents in the crowded hall asked the three to resign.
Dianne David, a former planning commission chairwoman and a physician's assistant, compared the situation in Hughson to a wound "that's been festering for months."
"Our city's in a lot of pain right now," she said. "Until the pus is out, it's not going to heal."
David said the recently formed Citizens for Better City Government is sending a letter to the attorney general's office, seeking the removal of Crowder, Humphreys and Manley.
Crowder also struck out with his request to participate in several upcoming meetings via teleconference because of planned surgeries on his knee. Only Manley voted to back Crowder's request.
The council has discretion to allow members to participate by phone, but wherever they are -- in Crowder's case, his home -- becomes a public meeting place, Deputy City Attorney Daniel Schroeder said. So the home would have to be made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes provisions such as hallway width, restroom facilities and ramp incline.
"I don't have a problem with it," Manley said, adding that the city should make it possible for Crowder to participate as he recuperates.
"In no way can I support this," Beekman said. "Maybe if you give him the benefit of the doubt, which I am not going to do. If he can't attend meetings, he should not be on the council."
"I think it's important that the public wants to see us up here and ask us questions," he said. "I'm not going to support this at all."
In council comments at the end of the meeting, Manley made one more effort to look beyond the grand jury report.
"It's my recommendation that we appoint a short-term committee to look into various concerns of the council and the administration, with each council member appointing one member," he said. "Let's look at the future, what's happening ahead, and forget what happened behind us."
The other councilmen did not comment on the suggestion. Both reiterated their agreement with the grand jury report.
"I have full confidence in that report," Bawanan said. "There have got to be some changes up here, and I hope they happen soon."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.