Like Bell, California city of Vernon pays leaders huge salaries

By Kim Christensen and Sam Allen
Friday, August 20, 2010

Bell isn't the only Southern California city to pay huge salaries to its civic leaders. In neighboring Vernon, a former city administrator who now serves as a legal consultant has topped the $1 million mark for each of the past four years, records show.

Eric T. Fresch was paid nearly $1.65 million in salary and hourly billings in 2008, when he held the dual jobs of city administrator and deputy city attorney, according to documents obtained through the California Public Records Act.

Fresch, described by city officials as an experienced finance lawyer, was paid nearly $1.2 million last year, records show. Through July 31 of this year, he has earned about $643,000 as "outside legal counsel."

Donal O'Callaghan was paid nearly $785,000 last year as city administrator and director of light and power, overseeing Vernon's city-owned utility. He now earns $384,000 a year managing capital projects for the utility after stepping down July 20 as city administrator.

Former city attorney Jeffrey A. Harrison earned $800,000 last year and City Treasurer/Finance Director Roirdan Burnett made $570,000, records show.

Although Vernon and Bell share a border in southeastern Los Angeles County, they are very different cities. Bell is a working-class, largely immigrant city with 38,000 residents. Vernon has fewer than 100 residents and is largely a business and industrial hub.

Vernon officials defended the salaries Thursday, saying that Fresch, O'Callaghan and others brought a level of expertise the city otherwise would not have had.

Fresch said that he has performed complex legal services for Vernon, mostly related to its energy businesses. He said he gradually accepted more and more work from the city since he first started working for it in 1986.

Once he joined the city staff, Fresch said, his services cost Vernon less than what his private-practice "peer group" would have billed for similar work.

-- Los Angeles Times

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