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Compton council moves to cut ‘illegal’ payments to themselves

The L.A. County district attorney's office has warned Compton City Council members and the mayor that their pay for sitting on certain commissions is illegal.

The L.A. County district attorney’s office has warned Compton City Council members and the mayor that their pay for sitting on certain commissions is illegal.

(Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images)

After initially defending the payments, Compton city officials have moved to stop boosting the salaries of council members and the mayor for sitting on boards and commissions — a long-standing practice the district attorney’s office has alleged is illegal.

The City Council unanimously voted this week to dissolve two commissions after Los Angeles County prosecutors said the agencies served no purpose other than to provide additional compensation to city officials on top of their salaries. Those commissions each paid $1,000 a month to the mayor and every council member.

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FOR THE RECORD

8:20 p.m.: A previous version of this post said that the Compton City Council on Tuesday did not address payments from two other commissions that the district attorney’s office also said were illegal. The council, sitting as the Public Finance Authority, voted to end payments from that agency. Last week, the council reduced the frequency of meetings for the Urban Community Development Commission from twice a month to an as-needed basis.

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City officials also voted to end payments from a third agency, which gives the mayor $1,700 and each council member $1,100 a month.

The county district attorney’s office alleged that the agencies often met for just a few minutes and that the compensation violated the city’s charter, which sets the salaries of the mayor and the four council members at $600 a month.

The commissions’ purpose and the questionable payments were first reported by The Times in 2010.

The district attorney’s office sent a letter to the city on Tuesday setting a deadline of Oct. 15 for the mayor and council members to act or face “appropriate action.” The letter said prosecutors would “consider the matter resolved” if the mayor and council members followed through on a promise the city attorney made last week to bring the salaries into compliance with the charter.

On Tuesday evening, the council voted at its regular meeting to dissolve the Housing Development and Gaming commissions, the city clerk confirmed Thursday.

The motions made no mention of the district attorney’s concerns. Instead, they said Compton staff concluded that the need for the Housing Development Commission had significantly declined since its creation in 1999, and that the council could save time and resources by directly reviewing bingo and card club license and permit renewals.

The motions require two separate votes of the council, which is scheduled to hear and vote on the issue again at its next meeting, on Tuesday. If adopted next week, the motions would go into effect after 30 days, the city clerk said, in time to meet the district attorney’s deadline.

In a separate vote, city officials agreed to end payments to the council and mayor from the Public Finance Authority.

Last week, officials voted to reduce the frequency of meetings held by a fourth commission that prosecutors said was the only board that actually required city officials to show up to meetings to be paid. The Urban Community Development Commission, which previously met twice a month, will now meet only as needed.

The city, through its spokeswoman, Jasmyne Cannick, declined to comment.

City Atty. Craig J. Cornwell wrote to the district attorney’s office last week promising that the city would comply. Cornwell had previously argued that the commission payments were legal, but he did not address the issue in the letter.

Assistant Head Deputy Sean Hassett, a supervisor in the district attorney’s Public Integrity Division, told The Times last month that Compton officials could face criminal charges if they continued to accept payments from the commissions.

Mayor Aja Brown was paid at least $3,850 a month and council members at least $3,250 a month for the commission meetings, according to figures cited in a letter Hassett sent the council in July. Based on figures cited in that letter, Brown collected at least $53,400 in annual pay from her salary and commission compensation; council members received at least $46,200 each.

The commissions met immediately before some council meetings, according to the letter. Some of the payments date back to 1975, Hassett wrote, adding that prosecutors examined records detailing the creation of the commissions, as well as minutes from hearings since 2008.

The district attorney’s warning letter came five years after The Times’ investigation into the commission payments. At the monthly rates cited in the district attorney’s July letter, the city would have paid council members and mayors a combined total of about $1 million since The Times’ report was published.

Among the officials who received some of the payments was former Compton Mayor Eric Perrodin, who works as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office.

Hassett told The Times last month that it wasn’t until this year that his office examined the Compton City Charter after receiving a complaint, and discovered that the payments were illegal.

For more Compton and South L.A. news, follow @AngelJennings.


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