There's a major shake-up today at Vernon City Hall, as Mayor Hilario Gonzales and City Attorney Michael Montgomery have each submitted their resignations.
Gonzales was part of the three-member council majority that agreed to hire Montgomery permanently two weeks ago. That decision kicked up a storm of protest, and the dispute seems to have helped finally push Gonzales out the door.
This comes as Vernon is still struggling to reform, after nearly being shut down earlier this year…
“Change is needed,” said Greg Hayes, spokesman for Sen. Kevin De Leon, who has led an effort to reform Vernon. “You should either be part of quick, immediate and dramatic change, or you should get out of the way. The mayor chose the latter.”
Gonzales has been on the Vernon City Council since 1974. He was appointed mayor in 2009. He lives in a city-owned house next door to Vernon City Hall. It's not entirely clear when his resignation will take effect. His
resignation letter (posted below) says that he'll resign officially
once he confirms that he'll receive his pension. More to come on that,
Montgomery also submitted his resignation letter today, saying he was stepping down “effective immediately.” Montgomery was hired as the permanent city attorney two weeks ago. That move was criticized by the Vernon Chamber of Commerce and John Van de Kamp, the city's ethics adviser. (And, not to claim credit by any means, but we did publish this photo of him dozing off at work.)
Vernon has only 112 residents, and has rarely held elections in the last several decades. The city has come under fire repeatedly for heaping lavish salaries on its top administrators. Under threat of disincorporation, the city agreed to double its population, set up an independent housing authority, and enact a series of other aggressive reforms.
The council has encouraged the residents to go to the polls in support of charter amendments.
“We're just moving forward,” said Marisa Olguin, president of the Vernon Chamber. “If there's a resignation, there's a resignation. We're going to work with the council members that are open to change.”
In an interview, De Leon acknowledged that reforming Vernon has been hard work, and that it has been “messy” at times.
“Democracy is always harder to do at the ground level,” he said.
“Mayor Gonzales served a long time. But it's a new era in Vernon. Either you're on board with implementing aggressive reforms, or you're not. And he made his choice.”
Update, 9:20 p.m.: The LA Times reports that while Montgomery is quitting as city attorney, he'll still be working for the redevelopment agency and the power utility. So we'll still have him to kick around a little longer…
Here's Gonzales' letter: