Vernon mayor resigns after criticism over vote
The mayor of Vernon submitted his resignation Monday, following criticism from a state senator who accused the City Council of acting in a secretive way.
Mayor Hilario “Larry” Gonzales was one of three council members who voted to promote Vernon’s interim city attorney Oct. 18 without placing the item on the meeting agenda. State Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) assailed the council members for the move last week, calling it “an egregious violation” of their recent commitment to operate in a more transparent way.
Gonzales submitted a letter to the city on Monday, saying he would resign as soon as his pension payments were confirmed by CalPERS.
“He’s 82 years old and he’s tired of the battles,” said former interim City Atty. Michael Montgomery, who confirmed Gonzales’ resignation.
Gonzales had served on the City Council since 1974, when he was appointed to fill a vacant seat. He and other Vernon councilmen have enjoyed among the highest salaries in the state in recent years, and also approved annual compensation of over $500,000 for several of the city’s top administrators. Three different Vernon officials have been convicted of public corruption since 2006, including Gonzales’ predecessor, Leonis Malburg.
Earlier this year Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) introduced legislation that would have disbanded Vernon, which has only about 100 residents but over 1,800 business, and made it a part of Los Angeles County.
The effort was defeated by De Leon and other state senators, who argued that the bill would cause a loss in jobs. De Leon also introduced a reform plan that called for the industrial city to enact a series of policy changes and increase its voting population.
“The bottom line is you’re either on board with implementing aggressive reforms, or you’re not,” De Leon said in an interview Monday evening. “I guess [Gonzales] made his choice. We have to move forward.”
The council’s decision to promote Montgomery, which was first reported by LA Weekly, was also criticized by Vernon’s ethics advisor, former state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, who urged the council members to reconsider the move.
Vernon’s residents will vote in November on 10 different reform measures, including resolutions that would impose term limits for council members and require the city to create a competitive bidding process for contracts.
De Leon said that if the city does not embrace the reforms, disincorporation could be back on the table.
Gonzales has refused to grant interview requests to The Times throughout the last year. But at public meetings he was often the most vocal of the council members and on several occasions defended Vernon during the debate over the disincorporation bill, AB 46.
"We have done nothing wrong. Like any other thing, you may have ... bad apples. But that is not the city's fault. Those are individuals, and the individual things that they do," Gonzales said in February.
Montgomery also announced his resignation as interim city attorney Monday, but said he would remain attorney for the city’s Redevelopment Agency and Light & Power Department.
-- Sam Allen in Vernon
Photos: 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