Thom Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley recall, Hughson, California (2010)
"Citizens for Better City Government" led the recall effort. Recall organizers said that their effort to recall Crowder, Humphreys and Manley was motivated by a Stanislaus County civil grand jury report that found that the trio violated California's public meeting law and conspired to fire City Manager Joe Donabed. After the August 24 vote, Josh Whitfield, a spokesperson for the recall group, said, "Tonight marks the end of corruption in Hughson. The voters have spoken. Corruption did not stand tonight and it will not stand tomorrow."
The Hughson City Council has five members on it altogether. The two who were not subject to the recall vote were Matt Beekman and Mayor Ramon Bawanan.
George Carr, Jeramy Young and Jill Silva were elected on August 24 to replace Crowder, Humphreys and Manley on the city council.
Recall election results
- Yes to recall Crowder: 971 (86.31%)
- No to recall Crowder: 154 (13.69%)
- George Carr to replace Crowder: 651 (63.82%)
- Miguel Oseguera to replace Crowder: 366 (35.88%)
- Yes to recall Humphreys: 981 (87.43%)
- No to recall Humphreys: 141 (12.57%)
- Gary Houx to replace Humphreys: 306 (29.82%)
- Jeramy Young to replace Humphreys: 712 (69.40%)
- Yes to recall Manley: 994 (89.15%)
- No to recall Manley: 121 (10.85%)
- Billy Gonzalez to replace Manley: 154 (14.68%)
- Jill Silva to replace Manley: 894 (85.22%)
Six candidates were on the August 24 ballot as potential replacements for Crowder, Humphreys and Manley.
The six candidates were:
- George Carr, running for the Crowder seat. He said, "I want to get the city back into the process of doing normal city business. I want to get the city back on track." The Modesto Bee endorsed Carr for this position, saying, "Carr chaired Citizens for Better City Government, which initiated the recall drive, and has served six years on the city Parks Commission. Fifteen of his 31 years with AT&T have been in management, providing useful experience in overseeing contracts and employees."
- Miguel Oseguera, running for the Crowder seat. He said, "I want to fix City Hall. I want to make sure we work as a team. We can’t move forward if everyone is picking sides. Gossip doesn’t belong in City Hall."
- Gary Houx, running for the Humphreys seat. He said, "We need to get the council back on track."
- Jeramy Young, running for the Humphreys seat. He said, "I am running because I am disappointed in the current leadership. There is a lot of fighting and the city isn’t moving forward."
- Jill Ferriera Silva, the assistant chief probation officer for the Stanislaus County Probation Department, ran for the Manley seat. She said, "I am really saddened by everything that has taken place with all the turmoil taking place."
- Billie Gonzales, running for the Manley seat. Gonzales said, "I want to get Hughson out of the paper for negative things.”
The city council voted 4-1 on May 10 to set aside $23,000 to have Stanislaus County election officials administer the election. Crowder cast the lone dissenting vote on May 10. The May 10 vote was a reversal of an April vote, when the city council originally voted against having Stanislaus County administer the election.
Recall target Thom Crowder owns an ambulance company. He originally said he would not run for re-election in the November 2010 elections, but in March, Crowder indicated on his Facebook page that he intended to run again. However, in July, Crowder said he would not run again in November even if he survives the recall attempt. He also stressed that he believes that the current city council should choose Hughson's new city manager rather than wait to have a potentially new set of faces on the city council make that decision because, "You'd have people with absolutely no or zero experience, who have never worked with city managers in the past. I think we're more qualified as a city council to make that decision."
He was appointed to the city council in January 2009 to fill a vacancy.
Crowder has strong views about those leading the recall. He is alleged to have called them "contentious little rats". Continuing his tradition of using colorful language to describe people, in mid-March, Crowder used the word "shameful" to describe Matt Beekman. Beekman, who serves with Crowder on the Hughson city council, is concerned about the city's inability to provide financial auditors with the documents they need to complete their audit of city finances.
Crowder has also referred to recall organizers as "pea brains" and "disingenuous scumbags." He has also indicated that "I'm not afraid of these knuckleheads."
The Stanislaus County civil grand jury said that Crowder tried to use his position as an elected official to gain business for himself as a lobbyist, citing emails that the grand jury looked at that, in their view, established that Crowder had done so. Crowder said that if anyone could produce any of these emails, which he did not recall ever writing, he would voluntarily resign from the city council. At a Hughson City Council meeting in mid-April, Todd Brownell, a member of the recall group, provided the council and the public in attendance with a copy of an email that Crowder sent to a competitor seeking a partnership.
Josh Whitfield's remarks at the May 10 City Council meeting, which drew a standing ovation: "It was sort of ironic to see a 22-year-old man give a well-deserved maturity lesson to adults twice his age. He clearly articulated and explained the pro-recall stance, admonished the all of Hughson's leadership and achieved a standing ovation in a divided room."
Once the email was made public, City Council member Matt Beekman said, "At the last meeting, I asked Councilman Crowder to stand by his word. He did not. Thom, you sent the emails. Do everyone a favor and stand down."
Crowder responded that he did not interpret the email in question the same way that Beekman, Brownell and the grand jury interpreted it, and that he would not therefore step down: "You can kick me out. I'm not stepping down."
Crowder voted against allocating the $23,000 required to administer the recall election.
Humphreys was elected to his position on the city council in November 2008 and has more than two years remaining in his term, unless he is recalled.
When Doug Humphreys was served with his recall notice on February 10, he is said to have burned the notice. Peter Sugia, vice-chairman of the recall committee, gave the notice to Humphreys, saying, "Mr. Humphreys, you are served. Thank you." Sugia says that as he and his partner turned their car around after delivering the notice, they observed Humphreys standing in his driveway holding the "Notice of Intent to Recall" and that it was engulfed in flame.
Humphrey voted against allocating the $23,000 required to administer the August recall election.
Manley resigned from the city council, effective immediately, 22 days before the election. He said, "It is with heavy heart that I must resign my position as a City Council member. With the continued attacks my wife and I have suffered both emotionally and physically; I have made a decision to step away from the abuse we have been suffering at the hands of this small group."
In April, when it was learned that petitioners had collected sufficient signatures to force a recall, Manley voted against an allocation of $23,000 for the administration costs of conducting the election. According to a local newspaper, Manley suggested that the people who signed the recall petitions could each chip in $23 to pay for the cost of holding the recall.
Grand jury investigation
In December 2009, the Stanislaus County grand jury made public the results of its investigation into allegations against Crowder, Humphreys and Manley. The grand jury's report concluded that the trio should resign or be removed from office, after finding that they had acted in violation of California's open meetings law, conspired to terminate City Manager Joe Donabed's employment and put their agendas ahead of the public good of the city.
Recall target Thom Crowder said that the grand jury got it wrong.
As a result of the grand jury's general probe into corruption in Hughson, city employee David Chase faced felony charges. Chase was accused of destroying computer files that contained accounting material and of deleting building permit information from the city's computers. Chase plead not guilty to these charges.
Members of the grand jury asked Jerry Brown, the Attorney General of California, to remove Crowder, Humphreys and Manley from office. Brown's office said that removing local politicians from office is not within their authority. Members of the grand jury also asked the California Fair Political Practices Commission to review their file against the three.
On March 29, the Stanislaus Civil Grand Jury submitted a letter to Ramon Bawanan, who is the mayor of Hughson, which said that Crowder, Manley and Humphreys are in violation of California Penal Code section 933 (c) because they did not respond to the grand jury's findings within 90 days.
Hughson is a city of about 4,000 residents. It is known as a farming community and is surrounded by almond and peach orchards.
In March 2010, Hughson was notified by Macias, Gini & O’Connell, an outside firm hired to audit the city’s finances, that the auditing agency has been unable to complete its audit because "audit delays and additional areas of audit risk have caused significantly more time than previously estimated", specifically mentioning "delays receiving audit information including loan documents and related support, executed City Council Resolutions, completed capital asset inventory, reports with the related journal entries and year-end payroll reconciliation support."
In 2010, Hughson was without the services of a city manager.
Path to the ballot
- See also: Laws governing recall in California
Recall organizers needed to collect a minimum of 753 signatures for each recall target.
In late March, recall organizers submitted signatures for each recall target to interim city clerk Annabelle Aguilar. The recall committee reported that it had collected more than 1,000 signatures for each recall target.
County Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan announced in mid-April that more than 800 valid signatures had been counted for each recall target:
- Valid signatures to recall Crowder: 856
- Valid signatures to recall Humphreys: 848
- Valid signatures to recall Manley: 847
According to PublicCEO.Com:
- "The Citizens for Better City Government took Hughson by surprise by launching a surprise blitzkrieg style, 70-hour grassroots campaign in which they collected over 1,000 signatures endorsing a recall. This was an astounding 1/3 of the voting population. The petition phase of the recall was over as quick as it began and took the anti-recall campaign unprepared and off guard."
- Hughson councilmembers should avoid costs of recall and resign now (Opinion piece)
- Hughson leaders, get your act together (Opinion piece)
- The search continues for a new Hughson city manager
- Modesto Bee, "Hughson election set, but no money", April 27, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "'No option' but to move forward with recall", February 9, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Recall organizers turn in petitions against 3 Hughson councilmen", March 29, 2010
- Turlock Journal, "Crowder, Manley ask for Hughson Mayor's resignation", February 24, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Hughson will get a recall", April 10, 2010
- Turlock Journal, "Hughson voters recall council members", August 24, 2010
- Turlock Journal, "Six challengers seek Hughson City Council seats in recall election", June 11, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Recall and replace Hughson", August 19, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Hughson recall in county's hands", May 11, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Council candidates start campaigning in Hughson", July 25, 2010
- Public CEO, "Councilman Lights Recall Notice On Fire - Makes Mockery Out Of Democratic Process", February 12, 2010
- Turlock Journal, "‘Chaos and dysfunction’ reign at Hughson City Hall", March 24, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Tempers flare at Hughson council meeting", April 13, 2010
- Public CEO.Com, "Citizens Group Slams City Council, Sets Tone For Recall Election", May 12, 2010
- Turlock Journal, "Hughson council member Ben Manley resigns", August 3, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Hughson council not state concern", February 20, 2010
- Turlock Journal, "Hughson City Council members come under fire, again, from Civil Grand Jury", April 9, 2010
- Turlock Journal, "Hughson’s ‘dog and pony’ show stirs up finger pointing", April 14, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Hughson recall moves forward", April 9, 2010