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City of Hughson spread thin
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In these bad economic times, it is expected for mangers to take on more responsibility to fill vacant positions but the city of Hughson city manager is being stretched to the point of breaking.

Since City Manager Joe Donabed's return Nov. 30, after about a month on leave of absence, he has been helping in all departments.

During Donabed's leave of absence, Acting City Manager Thom Clark found himself repeatedly asking the City Council for help during his 30-day stint as the city's top manager.

"This is all falling on my shoulders and it's too much and I need help," Clark said at the Nov. 23 Hughson City Council meeting.

Clark was responsible for the interim city manager position, the director of planning/building position, and the director of public works/city engineer position.

As of Dec. 7, there were six unfilled vacant positions in the city of Hughson, Donabed said. The open spots, where no one is functioning in these positions, are director of administrative services, which serves as the deputy city clerk, the director of public works/city engineer, senior parks maintenance worker, senior water distribution operator, parks and recreation manager and planning and building assistant.

"All of these positions are vacant for various reasons," Donabed said.

At the Oct. 29 council meeting, Clark asked the council for a temporary city clerk and a consultant for a city engineer.

Also at the Nov. 5 special council meeting, Clark asked to be relieved of his interim city manager duties and asked the council to start looking for a city manager pro tempore. At that time the council decided to appoint David Whiteside to the city manager pro tempore position, but Whiteside rejected the offer because he couldn't get a leave of absence from his job.

With the six vacant positions, the city manager position had to take on the empty roles.

During the City Council meeting of Nov. 23, the council approved the motion to let a city clerk from the City of Riverbank come in to help temporarily with the vacant position from Dec. 7 to March 5. Annabelle Aguilar from the city of Riverbank is currently helping with the city clerk position.

With so many vacant positions in the Hughson, questions have come up as to why.

A former city employee, who wished to remain anonymous, along with other residents of Hughson have said that certain council members have a game plan to get rid of a number of city employees on their "hit list." The rumored "hit list" involves former City Clerk Mary Heminger, Director of public Works/City Engineer David Chase, City Manager Joe Donabed, and Chief of Police Janet Rasmussen.

At the Jan. 12 City Council meeting, Councilmembers Doug Humphreys and Thom Crowder were recorded discussing some of the people on the rumored "hit list" while other members of the council were in closed session. All council meetings are recorded with the exception of closed sessions. This recording was during a closed session, but Humphreys and Crowder excused themselves due to a conflict of interest. The recorder was left on and the recording is available to the public at Hughson City Hall.

"We are grooming someone to leave," Humphreys was heard saying on the Jan. 12 recording.

Crowder replied with "I wanna get the employees that I have confidence in that I use to work with here that know how the city operates."

The two councilmembers were recorded saying negative things about Heminger, Chase, Donabed and Rasmussen.

"David Chase, which I have no use for, that arrogant (expletive)," Crowder said in the Jan. 12 recording. "I have no use for that piece of (expletive). He is always the one to cause the problems."

Chase is now on a leave of absence from the director of public works/city engineer position.

According to a letter from the State Water Resources Control Board, Chase's water treatment license was revoked by the state for violating CCR section 3710(a)(3)'s prohibition against submitting false or misleading information on an application to the Office of Operator Certification for a Grade 1 WWTP operator certification. The letter states that Chase falsely asserted that he spent 20 to 30 hours a week in the actual operation.

When referring to Donabed, Chase and another person, Humphreys was recorded saying "those two are like gas and a match. It's always the same gas, the match might be different. If you want to squash the fire, remove the fuel."

Humphreys also reassured Crowder "that day is coming."

No matter what the reason for each open position, due to budget concerns the city of Hughson is currently "not filling those positions," Donabed said.