Vernon votes to slash council pay, set salary caps, enact term limits
The city of Vernon on Thursday approved a package governmental reforms in an effort to thwart a bill in the California Legislature calling for its disincorporation. The package includes salary caps for city officials, term limits and pay cuts for council members.
Vernon’s five councilmen unanimously approved the proposals at a brief public meeting. There was no debate among the council -- only the mayor commented on the resolution -- but their votes drew the applause of a group of business owners in attendance.
For months, Vernon and a coalition of business and labor leaders have been trying to defeat AB 46, an Assembly bill that would dissolve the city and make it a part of Los Angeles County. The city’s supporters say the bill would damage the local economy and cause a loss of jobs.
The bill’s author, Assembly Speaker John Perez, has argued that disincorporation is the only way to solve problems of apparent corruption in the industrial city, which is home to 1,800 businesses but fewer than 100 residents. Three Vernon leaders have been indicted on public corruption charges since 2006.
City Administrator Mark Whitworth, the author of the reform plan, called the vote “a very positive step” for Vernon.
“Sacramento’s voice has been heard,” he said.
Vernon’s councilmen -- Mayor Hilario Gonzales, William McCormick, Daniel Newmire, William Davis and Richard Maisano -- had earned among the highest salaries in the state, about $70,000 a year. They will now receive $25,000 a year. Pay for city department heads will range from $150,000 to $267,000, far lower than the compensation of some recent officials. Eric T. Fresch, for example, made $1.65 million in 2008 as Vernon’s city administrator; several others made more than $500,000.
The council also supported a ballot measure that would amend the city charter and limit them to serving only two more terms. The councilmen, some of whom have held office since the early 1970s, were not available for interview after the hearing.
Juliet Goff, a local business owner who spoke at the hearing, said the changes would “signal to all who are watching that Vernon is ready, willing and able to reform from within.”
Goff said the most important change was the city housing commission, which will help Vernon to devise a new housing policy. The city owns nearly all of the residential property within its borders, essentially making the councilmen landlords over all voters. Critics -- including Speaker Perez -- say the arrangement leaves those residents beholden to city leaders.
Under the new reform plan, a seven-member housing commission will take over management of the homes. The commission will consist of one council member, two residents, three business or property owners and one employee of a Vernon business.
In a statement earlier this week, Perez’s office dismissed the reforms, saying they were “just another example of Vernon saying or doing anything to protect their corrupt status quo.”
But the business owners -- many of whom hold positions at the Vernon Chamber of Commerce -- said they were planning trips to Sacramento to present the reforms to legislators. AB 46 is expected to be considered by the California Senate sometime next month.
Greg Longstreet, chairman of the chamber and president of Farmer John Foods, Vernon’s largest employer, said it was clear the city’s government was becoming more transparent.
“If good governance is Perez’s goal, one would assume he’d be celebrating today,” Longstreet said.
-- Sam Allen in Vernon
Photo: Members of the Vernon City Council are, from left, Mayor Hilario Gonzales, William McCormick, Daniel Newmire, William Davis and Richard Maisano. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times