Taking a trip just outside Los Angeles city limits we happen upon the infamous city of Vernon. With the city of Bell, Vernon holds the inauspicious title of home to politicians who behaved badly. Very briefly, a number of officials in Vernon -- officials who were purportedly serving the public -- were actually lining their own pockets and pulling in more than $700,000 per year, or engaging in acts which later garnered them convictions for public corruption.
Vernon is a small industrial city. While approximately 1,800 business call Vernon home, only 112 individuals hail from Vernon.
Initially state lawmakers attempted to disincorporate Vernon. That effort stalled when a number of state senators said that move would lead to significant job losses.
But not all reform efforts stalled. In elections held on Tuesdaym Vernon voters passed a series of government reforms aimed at ensuring that history does not repeat itself. There are 74 registered voters in Vernon and 52 of them cast ballots this week.
One of those reforms, passed by a margin of 43 to 9, includes the imposition of term limits. The law will prevent council members from serving more than a decade (two five year terms) in office.
Voters also unanimously passed three other reform measures. Those measures remove the "at-will" status of city employees, remove limitations on the ability to fire city administrators (allowing the City Council to remove the City Administrator), and ensure that the city will follow the state's prevailing wage laws for public works projects. The measures are now part of the City Charter, and cannot be repealed without another vote of the people.
Sometimes bad behavior leads to unnecessary reforms. Term limits, one of my least favorite good-government reforms, simply sweeps too broadly. It forces the good out with the bad, for no other reason than the fact that politicians have been serving in office for a certain period of time.
Vernon voters are set to vote on another series of reforms in a few weeks.
Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.
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