State

Vendor fired for Hughson remark

HUGHSON -- The latest casualty in this city's ongoing turbulence is its information technology provider.

A split City Council voted Monday night to immediately terminate its contract with Cullen Byrne of MidValley IT after Byrne spoke out at a Patterson City Council meeting.

Councilman Thom Crowder said he got a call from a Patterson council member, saying that Byrne "spoke in a negative sense regarding Hughson."

"We have an IT guy with the ability to play around with basically the brain of Hughson," Crowder said. "I don't feel this gentleman is right for the job."

Byrne, who has bumped heads with Crowder before, denied making negative comments. He said he transcribed his statements from Patterson and read them Monday night.

Byrne spoke to the Patterson council as it was considering terminating City Manager Cleve Morris, which it later did. Byrne said Morris was doing a good job and used Hughson, which also fired its city manager, as a cautionary example.

"Pick up a newspaper, look at Hughson over the last year and a half," he said. "Ask the City Council in Hughson if you like being recalled, because that's where you are headed."

Crowder and Councilmen Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley are facing a recall election in August after the Stanislaus County civil grand jury found the three had violated state law conspiring to fire then-City Manager Joe Donabed.

Crowder on Monday read his response to the civil grand jury's report, saying he wasn't given the opportunity to defend his actions, that the grand jury disregarded bigger problems in Hughson to focus on him, and that any actions he took were in the interest of exposing workplace issues at City Hall.

Cullen said Crowder acted inappropriately in chastising him.

Crowder has sought a new information technology provider for the city since saying Cullen dodged questions about the potential release of personal information in a hacking incident.

"Mr. Crowder, this is the second meeting in a row that I'm up here having to defend myself in front of you, and the second meeting in a row that you have violated your code of conduct," he said. "I don't appreciate being treated like this. I certainly did not bad-mouth the city of Hughson."

Humphreys disagreed. "This is the second time that we've been dragged down by this vendor," he said. "He needs to remember his place. He doesn't give us advice as to how to run the city."

Mayor Ramon Bawanan said Cullen did nothing wrong and only exercised his right to free speech.

"I'm puzzled," he said. "Why can't a person go to another city or even sit here and criticize us?"

Bawanan pointed out that the city already was seeking proposals for a new information technology contract and should continue along that path without making a rash decision. But he and Councilman Matt Beekman lost when Crowder, Humphreys and Manley voted in favor of the termination.

Beekman later asked City Attorney Daniel Schroeder to look into the legality of the City Council making a sudden decision to terminate the contract.

"It was entirely inappropriate, and we're exposing ourselves to potential legal problems," he said. "We don't need more problems."

He and Bawanan called it another case of some council members trying to overstep their bounds of authority.

"I see a level of micromanaging that's unprecedented, and a complete lack of presenting any solutions," Beekman said. "Leadership is carving a path forward to get us out of all these problems. Right now we are not doing that."

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

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