For a community that spans just eight square miles and numbers fewer than 25,000 residents, Hercules has shown an uncanny faculty for commanding the spotlight in recent years. Too bad it's been for all the wrong reasons.

Financial mismanagement and ethical lapses helped bathe the city's ledgers in pools of red ink. Public outrage resulted in the ouster of all five council members who held office at the beginning of 2010 -- two through elections, one by resignation and two by a divisive recall effort.

The vitriol barely dissipated, with a new set of officeholders settling into their seats, when Hercules' old friend controversy came knocking again.

New electee Gerard Boulanger was found to have overstated his experience and education on a candidate statement. He was asked to resign (he didn't) and fined $500.

Dan Romero, who eyed the mayor's position, was accused by colleague Myrna de Vera of illegally lobbying for the job behind closed doors (he was vindicated but seriously peeved).

A month ago, Manuel de Vera, the council woman's husband, charged that anonymous fliers and web postings spiked with anti-Filipino racism, might be linked to supporters of Romero, Boulanger and William Wilkins, all running for re-election in a heavily Filipino community.

Romero survived; Boulanger and Wilkins did not. It's not a stretch to presume they are bitter.

This was the backdrop for Tuesday's City Council meeting, where grim expressions were the dress code and tension escorted council members to their seats. If someone had lit a match, the room might have gone up in flames.

Naturally, controversy was the main event, because that's what Hercules does. Item XIV, on page four of a five-page agenda, was to consider a resolution of censure against de Vera for "actions detrimental to the city of Hercules." (Incidentally, Boulanger introduced the resolution.)

What the councilwoman allegedly did was pressure a Pinole city official to pressure an executive at a company under city contract to stop one of its employee from writing negative comments about her on a community blog. It's a winding path, but it adds up to assault on freedom of speech.

A full agenda, embracing ordinances, contracts and property transfers, was supposed to come first. But de Vera requested the censure item be heard earlier, and that's where Tuesday's meeting settled, stuck in the muck for more than two hours.

Eighteen residents spoke during public comment, most adamantly supporting de Vera. Her lawyer, Kristin Kerr, argued against the resolution, and City Attorney Patrick Tang responded with legal precedent. Council members discussed the matter, and the city manager asked for a motion. Meanwhile, the clock ticked on.

In the end, the council did what politicians always do with a hot potato. It postponed a decision until later.

Vice Mayor John Delgado came the closest to resembling a voice of reason. He said the allegations were too large to be ignored, that using a position of power for personal benefit is wrong. But he added that an investigation was necessary before judgment could be passed. So the issue will be addressed after a new council is sworn in, after questions are answered and facts are gathered. (And no hint of retribution can be claimed.)

Then Hercules will have to drum up a new controversy. History says it will.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com