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Scandal-Plagued City Of Vernon May Lose Cityhood

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VERNON (CBS) — The corruption-plagued city of Vernon may lose its cityhood and become part of unincorporated Los Angeles County if Assembly Speaker John Perez has his way.

Vernon’s former city administrator was indicted in October in the latest scandal in the industrial city just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. The town of 95 residents has been controlled for decades by a few families and their associates.

Vernon City Officials Will Fight Disincorporation Bill: KNX 1070’s Ed Mertz reports.

Perez, D-Los Angeles, proposed a bill that would mandate the disincorporation of any city with fewer than 150 residents and Vernon is the only city that fits the description.

Vernon City Administrator Mark Whitworth issued a statement Friday, saying disincorporation would “cost thousands of people their jobs and the state hundreds of millions in tax revenues.”

Whitworth said he believed Perez’s bill violated the state Constitution and the rights granted charter cities.

Disincorporation typically requires a vote by residents.

All of Vernon’s voters live in city-owned housing for which they pay below-market rent, and that is believed to influence how they vote.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina has signaled support for the bill.

Several Vernon officials made between $500,000 and $1 million a year since 2005, with former city attorney and city administrator Eric T. Fresch making as much as $1.65 million in 2008. The officials traveled first-class on trips to New York and Europe and stayed at luxury hotels, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Three years ago, Vernon’s longtime mayor was charged with voter fraud and the city administrator was charged with public corruption. Prosecutors said then-mayor Leonis Malburg lived in a mansion in Hancock Park and lied for years about living in Vernon. He was convicted last year. Bruce Malkenhorst, the former city administrator, awaits trial on charges that he misappropriated about $60,000.

The city was founded in 1905, and its leaders, including Malburg’s grandfather, faced charges of voter fraud in the 1940s.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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