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POINT OF LAW: You Too Vernon?

  • By G. Monty Manibog

(Editor’s note:  Former Monterey Park Mayor, Monty Manibog is a regular columnist offering legal tips and perspectives in high profile legal cases and events.) When Julius Caesar lay dying of stab wounds with assassination conspirators standing around him, he looked up at his closest and trusted friend and asked, “Et tu Bruté (Latin: You too, Brutus)?”

Fast forward to the present and the same question can be directed to the City of Vernon, next door neighbor of the corruption ridden city of Bell which has paid exorbitant salaries and benefits to their administrators and other officials.

Yes, it appears that Vernon has also been remunerating top employees with outrageously high salaries: ex-city administrator Eric T. Fresch has been paid over $1,000,000.00 for each of the last 4 years; with $1,650,000.00 in 2008; current city administrator and director of light and power, Donald O’ Callaghan, $785,000.00 last year; former city attorney, Jefferson Harrison, $800,00.00 and former city treasurer/finance director, Riordan Bennett, $570,000.00

In comparison, “over 99% of city managers earn well below the salaries of Vernon and Bell officials,” remarked Kenneth Bulskamp, president of the city managers department of the League of California Cities.

These two neighboring cities are not quite alike in that Bell has 38,000 residents, largely poor working class immigrants, while Vernon is a wealthy industrial/business city with fewer than 100 residents with a daytime working population of over 50,000, run by a handful of avaricious city officials.  Like Bell, it has become a charter city not affected by the restraints on salary increases imposed by the Government Code on general law cities.

Former Vernon city manager, Bill Malkenshort, is currently awaiting trial for appropriating city funds for personal use (embezzlement), and former perenialmayor Leonis Malburg had already been convicted of voter fraud and corruption.
And, as of this writing, new reports have surfaced that Compton’s mayor, Eric Perrodin, receives full pay as mayor and member of several boards and commissions although he and fellow councilmembers have attended less than one-third of the scheduled meetings. As members of boards and commissions, they are paid handsomely for each meeting, even for non-attendance.  “It’s atrocious,” said activist William Kemp who heads a political action committee seeking to recall the mayor.
It’s certainly looking like a contagious disease coming out of southeast Los Angels County and the full extent of these municipal abuses has yet to unfold as three government agencies, Attorney General, District Attorney and State Controller’s offices, continue to expand their investigations.  Also as of this writing, the federal government has launched its own investigation on civil rights violations by the city of Bell for fattening their coffers by imposing excessive fees and unreasonably impounding vehicles.
It appears that there will be some criminal indictments in the near future as a more alert and conscious citizenry starts to fight back, as is happening in Bell.

What’s happening to civic duty and pride, of honorable service without material rewards?  Sometimes, one can understand the “politics as usual” mood people have, and the Vernon, Bell and Compton examples help to fuel that notion.

Despite these eye-popping revelations, however, it may still be a fair assumption that these they may be aberrations and not representative of the vast majority of honorable men and women serving in local government.

During my 12 years serving as mayor and councilmember, I was honored to serve with dedicated and committed colleagues: the late George Westhaln, former Monterey Park Postmaster, Rudy Peralta, a corporate manager, Louis Davis, and George Ige, school teachers, Marty Martinez, who operated an upholstery business, and I, as a practicing lawyer,were proud and honored to devote much of our time and resources to the city in the 1970s - ‘80s, without material rewards.  Among other things, we spent countless hours, even on weekends, to plan and carry through with building our current civic center complex without raising homeowner’s property tax.  By the way, we got coffee on the city during those lengthy weekend sessions.

The knowledge and satisfaction that we were contributing to our community’s well being was rewarding to us and this certainly applies to our current dedicated Monterey Park city council.  The involvement and vigilance of a concerned citizenry, however, help to ensure the dedication and commitment of their local government officials; SO, FELLOW CITIZENS, GET INVOLVED.

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