I’ve been a member of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce for several years, and until recently the only gripe I’ve had was that it stopped serving fruit and pastries during morning committee meetings.
That was until chamber President Gary Toebben sent an e-mail to members last month that made me unsure of whether I should shout or shiver.
Titled “A Plan to Save Jobs and Clean Up Vernon,” it sounded initially benign. The five-square-mile city of Vernon is home to 1,800 businesses whose employees outnumber residents by about 450 to one. But its governance is so pugnaciously opaque, I’m surprised there isn’t a statue in front of City Hall depicting Justice’s scales being swiped or some gadfly getting beaten up.
Yet Toebben’s e-mail didn’t hesitate to criticize legislation recently passed by the Assembly and championed by Speaker John Perez that would disincorporate Vernon.
“We commend and appreciate the Speaker’s focus on rooting out corruption, but (the disincorporation bill) runs the danger of ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’... the current elected officials in Vernon are well aware that dramatic changes must be made,” Toebben declared, then warned that the city’s jobs could disappear along with Vernon.
While I understand the chamber’s concern – no charter city, let alone one that champions business, has ever been dissolved – I rubbed my eyes in disbelief over the reference to Vernon’s “elected officials.”
Toebben cited the coverage of Vernon in the Los Angeles Times in his letter, which means he should know elected officials do not exist in Vernon. All of its council members have been appointed by the cabal that runs the city’s government, primarily in exchange for fat salaries (about 10 times what a typical small-town council person is paid) and low rent on the few homes within city limits, all owned by either other council members or the city.
There isn’t a council member who’s been elected in Vernon in 40 years. Its mayor, currently under indictment for voter fraud, has been in office since the 1950s.
Vernon’s last attempt at an election occurred in 2006, and would have been comical were it not so chillingly antidemocratic. It was conducted only because an outside group of eight people converted a tanning factory to an apartment house and three filed to run for City Council. Vernon cut off their utilities, evicted them and tried to remove them from the ballot.