Voters in the city of Vernon approved a package of governmental reforms Tuesday that establish term limits in a community where some officials have served since the 1970s.
The vote marked the first official support from Vernon's residents for an ongoing reform effort in the city's government, which was launched in response to a disincorporation bill in the state Legislature earlier this year. A total of 52 ballots were cast, according to a city spokesman.
"The city is moving in the right direction and this is a part of that picture," said John K. Van de Kamp, a former California attorney general who is working as Vernon's ethics advisor. "The residents really appear to be behind the process."
Vernon, an industrial city with about 1,800 businesses but only 112 residents, came under criticism this year from state legislators who argued that its government was controlled by a small group of individuals rather than a legitimate voting population. Three Vernon officials have been convicted of public corruption in recent years and several leaders received annual compensation of more than $700,000 during the same period.
The attempt to disincorporate Vernon ultimately failed after a group of state senators, led by Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), voiced concerns that the legislation would cause a loss in jobs. De Leon also introduced an extensive reform plan, parts of which were on the ballot Tuesday.
De Leon said in an interview Wednesday that passage of the initiatives was a positive step for the city but that there was still much more work to do to clean up City Hall.
Measure A, the term limits initiative, passed with 43 votes in favor and 9 opposed. The new rule, which prohibits Vernon's council members from serving more than 10 years in office, will go into effect for the current council members at the end of their respective terms.
Three other initiatives passed unanimously: Measure B reaffirms the city's commitment to paying prevailing wages for public works projects, Measure C removes the "at-will" status of city employees and Measure D eliminates certain restrictions on the firing of city administrators.
All four of the successful measures will be amended into Vernon's Charter, meaning that the City Council members will not be able to repeal the changes without another vote of residents, spokesman Fred MacFarlane said. A second package of reform initiatives will be voted on later this month.
In recent weeks, some within the city expressed concerns that council members were resistant to the reforms. Last week, Mayor Hilario "Larry" Gonzales submitted his resignation, following criticism of the City Council's promotion of interim City Atty. Michael Montgomery. Gonzales had served on the city council since 1974.
Van de Kamp has acknowledged some "push back" from the council, but says he is pleased with Vernon's overall progress. On Wednesday, he said he was confident that the second series of reform initiatives would pass as well.
"I think if there was any effort to undercut the reform process, we would have seen evidence of it last night, and we did not," he said.
Gonzales and the other council members were not available for comment.