Compton mayor responds to salary issues
Mayor Aja Brown responds to DA charges of City Charter violations; compensation reform 'did not have council support' One day after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office mailed a letter of concern and warning to Compton
Mayor Aja Brown responds to DA charges of City Charter violations; compensation reform ‘did not have council support’
One day after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office mailed a letter of concern and warning to Compton City Attorney Craig Cornwell regarding what it has deemed a violation of the City Charter by Compton Mayor Aja Brown and the four-member City Council in the payment of exorbitant stipends for brief Commission meetings, the mayor responded with the following letter, dated Aug. 21, 2015. — the Editor
By MAYOR AJA BROWN, City of Compton
I was sworn-in to serve the residents of Compton July 1, 2013. That following Monday, the very first meeting that I had with the City Attorney [Craig Cornwell], I discussed my policy agenda, which included several policy reforms, one being council compensation reform. He informed me that council compensation was set by city charter, which required a vote of the people. I informed him that I planned to address council salaries at the very next opportunity to do so, which was the upcoming 2015 election.
Council compensation is comprised of a combination of a monthly salary set by city charter and council commissions (weekly meetings), in addition to an auto and cell phone allowance. I subsequently approached my senior council colleague, Councilwoman [Yvette] Arceneaux on the issue, because removing commission salaries required a vote of the council body, in which as mayor, I only have one vote. Councilwoman Arceneaux stood with me on this issue. I brought this item to the council floor as a discussion item for further action. The item did not have council support. I was later approached by other council members on the matter that requested that I drop the issue for various reasons. I responded that this is something that I promised to address and had full intentions on doing so, in a fair and transparent way, along with additional policy revisions that I believed would help improve the city.
The very first meeting that I had with my new colleague on the city council, just two days after she was elected in June 2015 (she hadn’t even been sworn in yet), I asked her for her support to address council compensation. Again, all council action requires three votes. She stated that she would support doing what is right for the community. I also discussed in great detail a reform package that I had planned to introduce the following month.
As part of the July 2015 State of the City Address, I presented a reform package to the community that focused on improving city infrastructure, administrative stability and city council salary reform, which proposed that council salaries would be directly tied to Compton’s median household income. Council members compensation would be on par with the people that we serve. July 21, 2015, the reform package was introduced to the city council. I requested that the council vote to allow the residents of Compton to vote in the November 2015 election as they deemed appropriate. The council item did not ask the council to support or endorse the ballot measures but simply let the people decide what they want for their city.
The reform package failed for a lack of council support, with the exception of one council member, Isaac Galvan. In the July 28 council meeting, prior to any knowledge of any legal order, I requested the city attorney bring resolutions to close commissions and dissolve compensation for the next council meeting to be held on September 1, 2015. Some may ask, why hadn’t I made this request prior to now. The answer is that I had, multiple times, but I did not have council support.
Instead of alienating myself from my colleagues, I chose to work cooperatively to move the city forward as much as possible, prevent council gridlock and present my colleagues with a reasonable and fair alternative at the appropriate time, which is exactly the course of action that I had taken. Now, in regard to legality, these commissions have been in operation for 20-plus years in Compton. Compton is a charter city, which means our city charter is the key governing document, comparable to the U.S. Constitution. There are two types of cities in the state of Calif. — General Law and Charter City. General Law cities are governed directly by the state’s constitution. Charter cities are governed by their city charter. The District Attorney’s office has reviewed the legality of council salaries in the past with no recourse. The current correspondence referenced by the Los Angeles Times requests that council take action. It is not a mandate.
The city attorney has issued a rebuttal regarding the application of the referenced case law. More importantly, as I stated on public record in the July 28, 2015, commission meeting, what may be legal is not always ethical. In order to make a determination, I think it’s critical to consider the intent and context of the original charter provision as enacted. The city’s charter states that city council members should be compensated $600 per month, enacted in approximately 1950. In 1950, a mortgage in Compton was on average $100. $600 adjusted in today’s dollars is $5,969.79 per month. Had the authors of the charter included a clause to adjust the desired compensation of $600 per month for inflation, the council would earn over $70,000 a year in today’s dollars.
The city charter does not state that council members should serve “part-time” which is oftentimes stated in error. Now, in the current city structure, I can only recommend policy changes to the council body. If the city council as a body, does not decide to take action on policy changes that require a charter change, the next option is to bypass the council through a signature-gathering effort (voter petition) to force a special election. Unfortunately, the city council did not support giving voters their opportunity to vote on the reform package in November 2015, which not only addressed reducing council salaries, but included a 1 cent sales tax measure to repave every city street, hire additional firefighters, purchase critical safety equipment, improve street lighting, refurbish city parks, provide dedicated funding for youth programs, gang intervention, and more.
I am currently working with a group of stakeholders and residents to gather signatures to address our city’s service needs. The reality is this — there are some people heavily invested in maintaining the status quo for a variety of reasons. Some people don’t want change because they just can’t see it, while others are too afraid to do something different and move beyond the status quo. Some people want failure to prove a moot point, while others want to cover their inadequacies or lack of effectiveness to solidly their significance. At any rate, my sole question is: What about the people? I believe the people deserve progress at the expense of any and all egos and personal agendas. A wise person told me that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Change is a process that definitely does not come easy, but I’m up for the challenge.
Sincerely, AJA BROWN, Mayor City of Compton
CITY OF COMPTON | OFFICE OF MAYOR AJA BROWN 205 S. WILLOWBROOK AVE. COMPTON, CA 90220 | WWW.COMPTONCITY.ORG (310) 605-5597 | AJABROWN@COMPTONCITY.ORG
RELATED: Official letter from Mayor Aja Brown [PDF]