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Vernon mayor defends city, dismisses a few 'bad apples'

As the city fights a bill in the Legislature that would disincorporate the government and turn it over to Los Angeles County, Mayor Larry Gonzales says the city serves its business community well.

February 17, 2011|By Sam Allen and Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times
  • Vernon Mayor Hilario "Larry" Gonzales, photographed in September 2010, addressed business leaders at a City Council meeting Tuesday.
Vernon Mayor Hilario "Larry" Gonzales, photographed in September… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

The mayor of embattled Vernon made a spirited defense of the city this week, acknowledging there were a few "bad apples" but insisting that City Hall serves its business community well.

Mayor Hilario "Larry" Gonzales' speech at a Vernon City Council meeting came as the city continued to gear up for its fight against the state Legislature, which is calling for Vernon to be disincorporated. The city unveiled a slick ad campaign highlighting its economic contribution to the regional economy.

The ads are part of the city's campaign against AB 46, a bill that would dissolve Vernon's government and make it an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County. The bill was written in response to reports of high salaries earned by top officials and the indictment last fall of its former city administrator.

"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 to a group of business leaders who attended Tuesday's council meeting.

It was unclear to which individuals Gonzales was referring, and he declined an interview request.

Three Vernon officials have faced public corruption charges in recent years, including Donal O'Callaghan, a former city administrator who was indicted last year on conflict-of-interest charges related to the hiring of his wife as a city contractor.

Many of Vernon's 95 residents have connections to city leaders, and the city rarely holds contested elections.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who wrote the disincorporation bill, has argued that Vernon's municipal government lacks accountability and transparency because the city is without a true electorate.

Pérez, whose district includes Vernon, has characterized the city as a fiefdom controlled by a small group of powerful individuals. But Vernon officials say the city provides important services to its business population, and that disincorporation would lead to major job losses. The city is home to about 1,800 businesses that employ an estimated 50,000 workers from surrounding communities.

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