HUGHSON -- Voters on Tuesday will decide whether to remove and replace half their City Council.
It's the first time the city has conducted a recall election, but the divisive conditions that predicated the election are nothing new to Stanislaus County's smallest city.
In its tumultuous recent history, Hughson has endured a council reduced to two people, a mayor ousted after being charged with misusing his city credit card and a series of city managers quitting or being fired amid controversies.
"I think what happens is, in a small town, some of the people that get a little bit of power don't really know how to handle it," said Jean Henley, a longtime planning commissioner and former councilwoman. "People forget that they're there for the majority of what the people want instead of what I the individual want."
Longtime residents hope that with Tuesday's recall, the city can move ahead.
The recall is aimed at Councilmen Thom Crowder and Doug Humphreys; former Councilman Ben Manley's name is on the ballot as well, though he resigned earlier this month. Voters will be asked two questions for each: Should he be removed from office, and if so, which of two candidates should replace him?
Residents launched the recall effort after the three men refused to resign in light of a Stanislaus County civil grand jury report last year accusing them of breaking state law by conspiring through e-mail to fire then-City Manager Joe Donabed.
The grand jury said Crowder illegally tried to use his influence as an elected official to secure a job, a charge he denied.
City attorney's advice claimed
All three said they may have made a mistake by sending e-mails, but that it wasn't intentional and they acted under the direction of then-City Attorney John Stovall.
Humphreys said the grand jury got its facts wrong.
"I sent a blanket e-mail to a lot of people," he said. "But it was nothing about the city manager."
He denied accusations that he has an agenda; residents have accused the three councilmen of angling to bring back former City Manager and Police Chief Dave Whiteside.
"There is nobody on the grand jury that lives in Hughson; nobody on the grand jury spoke to me," Humphreys said. "If they didn't ask me any questions, how could they know what my agenda would be?"
He alone is fighting the recall. Manley resigned earlier this month, citing "continued attacks my wife and I have suffered emotionally and physically" during the recall effort. Crowder, whose term ends in November, said he won't fight the recall and didn't file for re-election, though he briefly considered running for mayor again.
Crowder has had his ups and downs in the city: In 2000, he resigned as mayor after losing a re-election bid. He won a 2004 mayoral election after opting out of the race. He was appointed to his current term last year to replace Ramon Bawanan after Bawanan assumed the mayor's post.
The outspoken Crowder has rankled many residents, calling those behind the recall effort "pea brains" and "disingenuous scumbags." He admitted he is blunt, but said he's trying to do what's best for the city.
Crowder said he originally sought the grand jury investigation to look into wrongdoing at City Hall, where some employees claim a hostile work environment exists. The former public works director is facing felony charges of tampering with computer files.
Many of Crowder's detractors start sentences, "I like Thom, and he's done a lot for Hughson, but ... .' " They say his disregard for constituents and recent actions make it impossible for him to continue to serve.
Lots of work for winners
After the grand jury issued its report, Bawanan regularly called on all three men to resign.
"You have violated the public's trust and forever damaged your ability to serve on this council," he told them at the end of a City Council meeting in January. "You forgot that as a member of the City Council you work for the residents, not the other way around."
Bawanan stopped his calls, saying he would let the recall take its course.
Whoever ends up leading the city after Tuesday will have plenty of work: The city remains without a 2010-11 budget and is in search of a permanent replacement for Donabed, whose contract expired in May.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.