THE PATHETIC responses of two Hercules City Council members facing recall are too little too late -- and reinforce that Don Kuehne and Joanne Ward lack leadership skills needed to help save the city.

As Hercules financially teeters, Kuehne and Ward blame former City Manager Nelson Oliva, whom they say kept them in the dark. That poor excuse shows they didn't critically look at the budgets and didn't ask basic questions about why so much money was spent with so few results.

Moreover, they were part of the council that kept Oliva after this paper reported that he had recommended -- and the council had approved -- $3 million in no-bid contracts for a company headed by his young daughters. The firm, in turn, instigated questionable redevelopment agency loans to its own employee and to city workers, including Oliva's administrative assistant, who was then appointed to the board of the Oliva family firm.

For that alone, the City Council should have fired Oliva. Instead, he was allowed to continue, subsequently taking medical leave last fall. Charlie Long, a respected former city manager, was brought in. When Long unearthed the city's woeful finances, the council fired him and, amazingly, brought back Oliva.

Oliva is finally gone. Three of the five council members have departed; voters ousted two in November and a third resigned. But Kuehne and Ward remain, although there is an organized group trying to oust them.

Their response? Kuehne says he was "the lone voice" trying -- in closed sessions, of course -- to question Oliva's deals, but that he had to publicly support him. Ward says the arrangement with Oliva's daughters in retrospect "didn't look right," and that "we should have blown the whistle."

Didn't look right? Maybe that's because it was clearly wrong. No choice but to publicly support Oliva? Nonsense.

Leaders must know right from wrong, and stand up to wrongdoing. If those two had taken public positions, it would have helped build pressure for change. Instead they sat silent, and even voted to fire Long and bring back Oliva.

They now say they want to help fix the city. But they haven't heard voters' call for change. Last month, they pushed through a highly questionable vote to make Ward mayor. When presented with recall papers, Kuehne tore his up, and now publicly challenges the motives of the recall organizers. When the new council voted to rehire Long as a consultant, Kuehne abstained.

That's not change. Residents should support the recall.