Vernon passes sweeping reforms as it seeks to remain a city following corruption scandal

A water tower above the city of Vernon, California.
A water tower above the city of Vernon, California.
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The Vernon City Council has approved salary caps and other reforms as the tiny Los Angeles suburb fights efforts to take away its cityhood. Meanwhile, the former city manager has pleaded guilty to corruption.

The council on Thursday unanimously passed a reform package that slashes official salaries, proposes term limits for council members and creates a commission to oversee city-owned housing.

The plan comes a month after the state Assembly — citing rampant corruption — voted in favor of a bill that would dissolve Vernon by revoking incorporation from cities with fewer than 150 residents. Legislation to disincorporate Vernon would put the city under the control of Los Angeles County. The State Senate is expected to vote on the bill next month.

Also Thursday, former City Administrator Bruce Malkenhorst pleaded guilty to misappropriating public funds and was ordered to repay $60,000. Prosecutors say he was illegally reimbursed for personal expenses such as massages and political contributions.

The reforms were dismissed by California Assembly Speaker John Perez, whose district includes Vernon. He’s pushing to dissolve the city, which has about 100 residents. Perez spokesman John Vigna called the reforms “window dressing.”

"The term limits that they’re talking about don’t go into effect for another decade. So these folks who are currently in their 70s will continue to serve as Vernon’s leaders until they’re 80," he said.

Vigna says the Assembly speaker’s biggest concern is the influence the Vernon’s city council wields over its voters.

"And the main issue that gives the city council such unprecedented control over the voters is the fact that they own all of the housing in Vernon," Vigna said.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Assembly is going to vote on the bill next month. It is the state Senate that will vote on the bill