Hughson recall in county's hands

HUGHSON -- Faced with a potential bill for $60,000, the Hughson City Council changed course Monday night and decided to ask Stanislaus County to run its recall election.

After the council had voted against a proposal to have the county handle the Aug. 24 election, interim City Clerk Annabelle Aguilar prepared a report on the city's other options. Costs ranged from $51,000 to $63,000 to have an outside agency conduct the election; doing it in-house would cost about $57,000. The county estimated its costs at $13,500 to $23,000.

Councilman Doug Humphreys, a firefighter, asked why the costs were so high. He said he was involved with fire district elections that involve a larger area than Hughson that weren't as expensive. Aguilar said she didn't know; her estimate included contracting out for tasks such as ballot printing and signature verification, as well as consulting fees with the city attorney.

The council voted 4-1, with Councilman Thom Crowder in dissent, to ask the county to run the election and set aside $23,000 for it.

Aguilar also noted that the filing period for potential candidates to replace the three men has begun, and will close June 4. Voters will be asked Aug. 24 whether the three councilmen should be removed from office and, if so, who should replace them.

The recall targets three councilmen -- Crowder, Humphreys and Ben Manley -- who were found by the Stanislaus County civil grand jury to have violated a state law that governs public meetings by conspiring to fire former City Manager Joe Donabed.

Discussions about the recall have grown vehement, with accusations back and forth among council members, the public and city staff.

On Monday night, a consultant for Citizens for Better City Government, which instigated the recall, called for an end to that.

Josh Whitfield said the organization will "take its arguments to the streets," and that his presentation Monday would be the group's last formal address at a council meeting.

"There can be no question that the last several months have been trying and cumbersome to everyone," he said. "We've had an apparent breakdown of leadership and accountability in government, with investigations and counter investigations."

He spoke of city employees who came forward at the last council meeting, defending Crowder, Humphreys and Manley and saying they only were trying to help employees handle an unacceptable workplace environment.

"It comes down to one very simple fact," Whitfield said. "You do not break the law to prove someone else broke the law. You are not facing recall because you tried to help someone."

Mayor Ramon Bawanan said he would follow the group's lead. Bawanan, who had asked the three men to resign at the conclusion of each council meeting, said he would stop.

"I'm not going to ask for any more resignations," he said. "Let the recall process begin."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.