Ever since its brush with death earlier this year, the corruption-plagued City of Vernon has vowed to straighten up and fly right.
But today the city's ethics adviser raised alarms about some funny business at last week's City Council meeting. Seems the council chose to appoint Michael Montgomery (seen here dozing off) as the permanent city attorney.
The problem with that, aside from the napping-on-the-job issue, is that there was nothing about this on the council agenda. Really, Vernon? So soon?
Montgomery has been Vernon's interim city attorney for about a year. At last Tuesday's council meeting, Councilman Dan Newmire suggested dropping the “interim” from his title.
Innocuous enough, right? Turns out, it means more than doubling Montgomery's compensation. (Wrong.) Under his current contract, he makes $20,000 a month. As the permanent city attorney, he would make $252,000 a year, plus benefits. (To clarify: That's a 5% raise, plus benefits.)
To his credit, Councilman Michael McCormick raised some concerns about whether it was appropriate to act without first putting the matter on the agenda. For advice, the council turned to — yes — Michael Montgomery, who assured them it was all above board. The old ways die hard.
The council then voted 3-2, with McCormick and Councilman William Davis opposed, to make Montgomery the full-time city attorney.
In the past, the story probably would have ended there, because nobody would have cared. But now Vernon has watchdogs, who know how to raise a stink when something doesn't pass the smell test. The Vernon Chamber of Commerce fired off a letter of protest to the council and to John Van de Kamp, the former attorney general who now serves as Vernon's ethics adviser.
“A move like this kind of sends a signal that this council may want to do things the old way,” said Marisa Olguin, the president of the Chamber. “Cronyism is not going to be accepted in this town anymore.”
Today, Van de Kamp sent the City Council a letter (posted below), advising the council to rescind the vote and conduct an open search process.
“The two most important positions in the City going forward are the City Administrator and the City Attorney,” Van de Kamp wrote. “At this point in Vernon's history it requires individuals holding those positions to be of the highest quality, and to meet the highest ethical standards. Vernon's future depends on it. Any failure along these lines opens the door to disincorporation.”
Vernon's spokesman has not returned a call, nor has Montgomery. At the moment, the council is expected to “re-vote” on the matter at its next meeting, on Nov. 1.
Update: Vernon spokesman Fred MacFarlane says “Members of Council are aware of Mr. Van de Kamp's concerns. They will address the matter at their next Council meeting.”
Meantime, enjoy this larger version of the photo of Montgomery — passed along by a concerned reader — and peruse the Van de Kamp letter, posted below.