SACRAMENTO – In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Times today published an opinion piece penned by Ventura City Manager Rick Cole highlighting issues surrounding the city of Vernon — including recent guilty pleas by former officials — and his belief that Speaker John A Pérez’s (D-Los Angeles) disincorporation bill must pass:
“In announcing the guilty plea of yet another disgraced Vernon official this month, L.A. Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman put the issue squarely: “All the crimes that happen there happened because of the misrepresentation of Vernon as a city, when it's not.... It's a corporation.” Former Vernon City Administrator Donal O'Callaghan, who racked up $785,000 in pay in 2009, admitted felony charges that he illegally hired his wife for lucrative consulting contracts.”
“Despite a torrent of corruption and abuses, it's been impossible to either generate public indignation or genuine reform because Vernon has no actual "citizens" in the typical sense.
“No one can move to Vernon. The entire housing stock is controlled by members of the City Council or the city government itself. The last time interlopers sought residence there (in a warehouse), the city cut off their electricity, hired armed guards to tail them and canceled their voter registration forms. Ironically, the three would-be voters shared the same motive as Vernon's officials. They wanted control of Vernon's $4.1-billion assessed tax base. With a dozen or more confederates, they could have grabbed power, but only if the city actually held an election. Instead, the City Council abruptly canceled the election. It took a court order to reschedule it and another to count the votes months later.
“That was in 2006, and it was the first contested election that Vernon had held in 25 years. If you think this bizarre perversion of democracy looks more like Enron than your local government, you would have put your finger on why reform is literally impossible in Vernon.”
“After passing the Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Pérez bill is awaiting a final vote in the state Senate. Business lobbyists have turned some Republican support, and labor allies have picked away Democratic votes. There is no powerful and well-funded lobby for public integrity. Only public opinion can turn the tide. If Vernon wins, we all lose.”
Vernon, the smallest city in California by population has only 96 residents, virtually all of whom live in heavily subsidized, city owned housing; and are either employed by the city or connected to city officials. News reports have documented the many incidents of corruption in Vernon, including rampant cronyism, illegal uses of public funds, voter fraud, and bloated salaries and pensions, including awarding a Vernon official the largest public pension in the state.
View the full article here: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-cole-vernon-20110727,0,292161.story
Website of Speaker John A. Pérez: www.asmdc.org/speaker
CONTACT: John Vigna (916) 319-2408