HUGHSON -- City Council members picked a date for a recall election. But they didn't decide to pay for it.
The recall of Councilmen Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley remained in the hands of the city Monday when the three voted in favor of holding the election Aug. 24, but against allocating $23,000 to pay Stanislaus County to run it. Mayor Ramon Bawanan and Councilman Matt Beekman voted in favor of both.
Residents successfully petitioned for a recall after the Stanislaus County civil grand jury found in December that the three councilmen violated a state law that governs public meetings by conspiring to fire City Manager Joe Donabed.
The grand jury also found that Crowder, who owns an ambulance company, broke a political ethics law by trying to use his elected position to land a job with another provider. Crowder denies the claim.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
Humphreys asked Interim City Clerk Annabelle Aguilar what it would cost for the city to run its own election. "I'm a little concerned with the $23,000 price tag," he said. "This is a pretty small town."
Aguilar said the city is not equipped to run an election -- the county also handles regular elections for Hughson. "We'd need to get ballot supplies and print a ballot," she said.
Election law requires the recall be set 88 to 125 days from Monday, so it can't be added to a regular election.
City Attorney John Stovall pointed out that running an election would require the purchase of a variety of equipment, including ballot counters, and said there's no telling what the cost could be.
Manley said that since the recall effort collected 1,000 signatures, each person who signed could chip in $23 to pay the county.
"It doesn't work that way," Bawanan said.
Humphreys asked what would happen if the city did not appropriate the money.
"The city would have to try to run the election itself at an unknown expense, and buying its own equipment," Stovall said.
The split votes took place after a meeting that opened with 45 minutes of public comments, most of them from city employees who support the three councilmen.
Finance director Debbie Paul said Crowder, Humphreys and Manley were targeted after they tried to look into harassment claims at City Hall.
She and other employees said they were subject to sexual harassment and that numerous complaints yielded no results.
Lisa Whiteside said a city official jokingly told her to sit on an administrator's lap. Martha Zarate said she was forced to clean coffee off Donabed's shirt with a detergent pen.
"People's lives have been changed forever and not for good," Paul said. "We who are speaking tonight have been adversely affected."
She said staff members have suffered health problems and stress as a result of the conditions at work.
"To the people behind the recall effort, do you really place sending an e-mail up there with what has happened at City Hall over the last several years?" she said, referring to the ethics claim against Crowder.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2343.