The long anticipated (and seemingly inevitable) end to a year long political drama in Stanislaus County’s smallest city of Hughson came to a close Tuesday night. (Watch video here)

The YES on Recall campaign swept the election; winning all three questions of recall and seeing all three of the committee’s endorsed candidates win as well.

Roughly 150 residents packed the IOOF hall in downtown Hughson to watch the returns and hear speeches from candidates.

Billy Gonzales and Gary Houx delivered concession speeches on stage, and then George Carr, Jill Silva and Jeramy Young delivered victory speeches. However there was no ill feeling between the five candidates, they all were happy to see the recall take place.

Appointed to give the pro-recall group’s victory speech, spokesperson and consultant, Josh Whitfield, embraced hope for healing the community while at the same time reminded the voters to stay diligent in holding their government accountable.

“If we are the responsible campaign I believe us to be, then we must see the good as well as the bad in our opponents. Tomorrow, Thom Crowder and Doug Humphreys will still put on a uniform to save people’s lives and Ben Manley will still be a generous donor and contributor to the community,” said Whitfield.

Whitfield would go on to thank supporters, other candidates and finish his speech with a simple lesson.

“As I have said many times in this campaign, the accomplice to the crime of corruption from our political leaders is all to often the indifference of those who elect them. We can be indifferent no longer. Corruption should not have stood yesterday, it did not stand today and it will not stand tomorrow,” finished Whitfield to thunderous applause.

A Road Long Traveled

“It’s been a road long traveled,” said one Hughson resident as she left the IOOF hall at the conclusion of speeches, referring to the year long battle Hughson has waged.

In 2009, City Councilman Jerry Leadermann abruptly resigned, bringing long time political lightning rod Thom Crowder back to the council by appointment.

In late 2009, an audiotape of Councilmen Crowder and Humphreys was released in which implicated a conspiracy to fire then Hughson’s City Manager Joe Donnabed.

In 2010, the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury found that Doug Humphreys, Thom Crowder and Ben Manley had violated the Brown Act (State Open Meeting Laws), conspired to fire the City Manager, and in Thom Crowder’s case, a violation of the Fair Political Practices Act from a questionable e-mail between him and a rival ambulance company.

In February of 2010, the Citizens for Better City Government formed and a nine-month recall campaign was set into motion.

One month ago, Ben Manley abruptly resigned in a scathing speech. He claimed he and his wife suffered physical and emotion attacks at the hands of the pro-recall movement.

Tuesday night the recall campaign came to an end and many hope the end of political drama came with it.

City Looks to Heal

All of the Councilmember-Elect’s seemed to be eager to help put Hughson back together. Though none of them have denied the need for the brutal political battle that took place, all seem ready to get the city back to business.

“I am anxious to get started,” Jill Silva said.

“The easy part is over,” Jeramy Young said.

“It’s time to get everyone together and bring healing to all the citizens in Hughson,” George Carr said.

Many Hughson voters expressed the same wish at the polls. Voters coming out of the polls expressed a similar desire to see a Council that will not be marred by political theatrics and personal agendas.

“I just want the Council to go back to normal operations,” said one Hughson Voter.

“I just want to see a budget get completed on time,” said another.

Decisive Results

With 100% Precincts reporting at 10 p.m. Tuesday night, the unofficial results had  36% percent of Hughson’s voters casting ballots. A higher then expected turnout, some officials were saying. Those who thought turnout was low, pointed to the start of the school year, summer heat and the fact that it was a special election. The vote had a decisively one-sided result.

86% Voted to Recall Crowder
87% Voted to Recall Humphreys
89% Voted to Recall Manley

Voters were decisive as well with those they replaced the ousted officials with.

85% Elected Jill Silva
69% Elected Jeramy Young
63% Elected George Carr

All three Councilmember Elect’s were endorsed by the Citizens for Better City Government.

Many members of the Citizens for Better City Government were left with feelings of validation for their efforts.

Difficulty Still Lies Ahead

Even with the Recall now over, division and bitterness remain. Several city employees claimed the three former leaders were only trying to bring a hostile work environment to public light. Some who hold that belief also accuse the Citizens for Better City Government of attempting to cover up such an environment. Though clearly the majority of voters disagree with that assessment.

The new City Council will have to get right to work on assessing where the city is, and figuring out how to fill the gaps left by ousted City Manager Joe Donnabed, disgraced city employee Steve Chase and high tension inside city hall.

Some Hughson residents have openly criticized the job of Finance Director Debbie Paul, (One of the Hughson Employees who claims hostile work conditions). Paul has gone on record claiming the lateness of the Audit/Budget is due to the work conditions and the distraction of the Civil Grand Jury investigation.

Let’s not forget to mention that the General election picks up right were the Recall election left off. Where defeated recall candidates Billy Gonzales, Miguel Oseguera will meet Councilmen-Elect George Carr and current City Councilmen Matthew Beekman at the ballot box. Ousted Councilmen Ben Manley called Matthew Beekman his “Greatest Mistake” (in reference to his vote to appoint Beekman to the Council). Some fear another hostile election is about to take place.

A few things are certain as Hughson goes forward. The first is that the City of Hughson remains fatigued by back-to-back-to-back elections, which have provided a non-stop campaign season since the beginning of the year.  Second is the Citizens for Better City Government have solidified their brand as “Local Government Anti-Corruption Watch Dog” and Third is the CFCG are probably King Makers in the November elections in Hughson.

Future of the Citizens for Better City Government

The one question on many minds Tuesday night was the future of the Citizens for Better City Government. That question became even more interesting with the arrival of the Riverbank Recall Committee Leadership and City Council candidates in Riverbank to the IOOF Hall.

I interviewed Chairman George Carr, Vice-Chair Peter Sugia and Campaign Manager Dennis Wallace.

All three gave me the indication the Citizens for Better City Government is going to not only stay a committee, but they planned to grow their committee as well.  The presence of Riverbank Recall leaders at the Citizens for Better City Government’s Victory Party should raise some eyebrows in Riverbank, where another Recall attempt on City Councilmen Jesse-James White is underway. (White was charged with felony drug possession)

One thing is certain, many of the CFBG leaders felt their future success lays with Josh Whitfield ‘s continued involvement.  Young Whitfield had a hand in each successful campaign Tuesday night. CFBG members credit Whitfield with the strategy, leadership and organizational skills to bring the idea of a recall and turn it into the successful campaign it was.  

Whitfield declined to comment on any future with the CBCG or if he spoke with any Riverbank Leaders, saying only “Tonight is about getting behind these new Council Members and moving Hughson back to a sense of normal.”

Successful Recall Elections are rare, recalling three officials at one time is almost unheard of and the Citizens for Better City Government accomplished all their goals while overcoming all the odds. And as if to put the topping on the cake they did it with a near 90% of the vote.