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Brown to serve subpoena on Vernon in broadened probe of city officials' high salaries

September 15, 2010 |  9:01 am

The state attorney general’s office announced Wednesday it will serve a subpoena on the city of Vernon, as part of an expanded probe of city salaries and expenses.

The subpoena will seek compensation records for Vernon employees and city officials, state Attorney General Jerry brown said in a statement.

A former Vernon city administrator who now serves as a legal consultant has topped the $1-million mark for each of the last four years, records show.

Eric T. Fresch was paid nearly $1.65 million in salary and hourly billings in 2008, when he held the dual jobs of city administrator and deputy city attorney, according to documents obtained by The Times through the California Public Records Act.

Fresch, described by city officials as an experienced finance attorney, was paid nearly $1.2 million last year, records show. Through July 31 of this year, he has earned about $643,000 as "outside legal counsel."

Other highly compensated employees include Donal O'Callaghan, who was paid nearly $785,000 last year as city administrator and director of Light & Power, overseeing Vernon's city-owned utility. He now earns $384,000 a year overseeing capital projects for the utility after stepping down July 20 as city administrator.

Former City Atty. Jeffrey A. Harrison earned $800,000 last year, and City Treasurer/Finance Director Roirdan Burnett made $570,000, records show. The year before, Harrison was paid $1.04 million.

Although Vernon and Bell share a border in southeastern Los Angeles County, they are very different cities. Bell is a working-class, largely immigrant city with 38,000 residents. Vernon has fewer than 100 residents and is largely a business and industrial hub.

Top administrators in Vernon also racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in city-paid expenses on first-class flights, luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and limousine service, according to a records review by The Times.

The records, which cover 2005-2010, detail lavish travel expenses billed to the city by its top executives, including then-city administrators Fresch and Donal O'Callaghan.

Some of the trips occurred as recently as this year, when the city laid off employees and canceled the life and health insurance benefits of city workers' spouses and children because of budget problems.

In one short trip to New York in February 2007, O'Callaghan, Fresch and a financial advisor flew first class to New York for a combined cost of more than $12,700.

O'Callaghan and the financial advisor, Craig Underwood, each stayed one night at the Ritz-Carlton, paying a nightly rate of about $800. Fresch, who stayed four nights, spent more than $7,600 at the Ritz-Carlton.

The bill included services from Paris Limo totaling $2,251 for four separate days. The city also reimbursed Fresch for $485 he spent dining at the Four Seasons New York.

The records show Fresch routinely commuted from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area to L.A. first class for more than $931 per round trip. In a few instances, he spent more than $1,100 for the relatively short air commute. He also incurred a bill of $350 at the United Red Carpet Airport Club, according to one city invoice.

-- Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb at Bell City Hall

Photo: Vernon with downtown L.A. in backdrop. Credit: L.A. Times

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