LOS ANGELES - California legislators approved a special audit of corruption-plagued Vernon at the request of Sen. Kevin de León.
The Los Angeles Democrat requested an emergency meeting of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Thursday to discuss the matter just as legislators rushed to finish up before the session’s end on Friday.
De Leon successfully spearheaded opposition to legislation this session that would have disincorporated Vernon, saying he was worried about the loss of jobs in Vernon, where more than 50,000 people work. He had originally supported disincorporation.
Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, the author of the bills to disincorporate Vernon, joined De Leon in his request to have the audit committee conduct a five-year audit of the city’s finances and governance practices. The committee, also tasked with monitoring the city’s reform efforts, has until April 2012 to complete the report.
Vernon, an industrial city with about 100 residents, has been plagued by financial scandals. Three former Vernon officials have been convicted on corruption charges and the Internal Revenue Service is auditing $419 million of tax-exempt debt issued by the city’s power enterprise.
The bonds, issued in 2009, were used to help pay for a 15-year supply of natural gas the city had acquired three years earlier.
De Leon obtained reform promises from Vernon city officials before leading the effort to kill disincorporation.
The primary goal of the audit is to make sure that the city makes the promised reforms to how it conducts business, he said in a statement. The audit will help ensure that Vernon meets its commitment for reform and that the public has a full accounting of the city’s financial condition and governance practices, he said.
Mark Whitworth, Vernon’s city administrator, said the city’s bond counsel, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and its advisors stand ready to cooperate with the state auditors. He added that the city is fully cooperating with the IRS on its examination of the bonds issued by the city’s Department of Light and Power in 2009.
“Our city has been under the microscope for some time now, but we are confident that our commitment to transparency and working cooperatively with those who are trying to help us improve, will help us reach our goal of becoming a model city,” Whitworth said.