hree city councilmen should be removed from office because they broke state laws, conspired against their staff and promoted their personal agendas, the Stanislaus County civil grand jury said.
The report, published Tuesday, does not name its subjects, referring to them as Councilmen A, B and C. However, it offers key details -- such as employment and previous experience in city politics -- that show A is Councilman Thom Crowder, B is Doug Humphreys and C is Ben Manley.
It accuses them of violating the Brown Act, which governs public meetings in California. The grand jury also found that Crowder violated ethics laws in trying to influence council decisions pertaining to property near his home and in promising to use his political influence while seeking a job. Crowder, who has been on the City Council on and off since the early 1990s, denied the accusations, calling the report "shameful."
"I think the grand jury made a horrible mistake," he said.
Crowder initiated the complaint that led to the grand jury investigation but wound up being its focus.
He faulted jurors for not looking further into his original allegations that city staff had committed acts of "willful misconduct," such as sexual harassment and other workplace issues.
City Manager Joe Donabed said he was gratified the grand jury did not find evidence to support Crowder's charges.
"I know how hard I've worked in Hughson and that there was no willful misconduct," Donabed said. "It's not so much that I feel vindicated by the report (but) that I'm glad the public can see a responsible party like the grand jury has made that finding."
The report adds another layer of drama to Hughson politics. Since June, the council has held several meetings in which Crowder, Humphreys and Manley have sought to investigate city administrators.
They voted to fire Donabed in October but rescinded his termination last month under the threat of a lawsuit from Donabed. The grand jury found that the three councilmen "disregarded their fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Hughson." They also orchestrated the attempted firing of the city manager, clerk and engineer since June, the jury said.
E-mails sent among the three regarding a city streetscape project and plans to hire a new city manager violated the Brown Act, the grand jury said. The Brown Act prohibits a majority of the members of a governing board from discussing public business outside of advertised public meetings.
Read the full story at the Modesto Bee.