The Compton City Council reconvened July 8 to re-consider extending the employment contract of the city manager. Newly elected District 3 Councilman Jonathan Bowers shared his frustrations of what he described as “possible illegal and unethical” behavior of his colleagues during a closed session meeting held July 6.
Agenda Item #8 was back up for discussion to extend the employment contract for Craig J. Cornwell, who has been the city manager since July 2019.
Cornwell’s time as city manager has been mired with delayed street repairs, failure to address infrastructure issues, and his being named in a $100 million lawsuit by JCJ Corporation alleging illegal search and seizure of their property during “raids” on illegal marijuana dispensaries.
2UrbanGirls obtained footage of Cornwell’s deposition in the matter where he admitted to not following the city’s procedure in “condemning” a building without a public hearing.
The July 8 meeting makes the 4th time Cornwell’s contract extension has come up for discussion and the newest elected member of the city council voiced his concerns about what he described as “unethical and questionable” tactics used in closed session in what he calls attempts to “put the gun” to their head to force approval of Cornwell’s contract extension.
“On my first day in office, I came into my office and it was filthy, and other areas of city hall that has an unacceptable appearance and the city looks bad,” said Jonathan Bowers, District 3 Councilman. “It is a reflection of how this city is run, and I can only imagine how employees are treated.”
Bowers affirmed he isn’t in the job “for the money” but is tired of the city looking a mess.
“The city looks a mess and that is due to the city management,” said Bowers. “I did not fire the city manager, he and his colleagues caused him to be removed.”
He then described his first closed session meeting as a member of the city council.
“I listened patiently while my colleagues fed me a plate of garbage and I’m insulted that they think I’m that stupid, and things occurred in that meeting that were not appropriate and appeared unethical and they were advised and it didn’t phase anyone,” explained Bowers. “Is this how we run the city with no regard for anything?”
He explained he didn’t want to be rushed into approving the city manager’s contract, and then he says the “heat” turned up.
“I was told to vote a certain way and we don’t have a choice,” said Bowers. “If we don’t have a choice, why do we need to vote?”
“Unfortunately, the norm here in Compton is not to do things the right way. When you sign a contract or agreement, shouldn’t you read it thoroughly?” asked Bowers. “I want to be clear that things were presented to me that did not appear to be ethical, and I will not be forced into anything and have my my colleagues talk to me in the manner in which they spoke to me during that meeting.”
“And to the people you don’t have to force me to do the right thing,” said Bowers. “I’m not putting my name on anything that appears to be illegal, unethical, or smells fishy. I’m not getting caught up in anything shady.”
The council deadlocked 2-2 to extend Cornwell’s contract, and Mayor Emma Sharif asked City Clerk Alita Godwin to add an item to the July 13 council meeting with the hopes of making an interim appointment.
In the meantime, City Attorney Damon Brown could find himself the subject of a complaint, for bringing in an outside stenographer to “take notes” during the closed session meeting held July 6.
“That is highly unethical,” said multiple elected officials who contacted 2UrbanGirls about the issue.
Brown stated without a city manager to sign warrants and execute agreements, vendors and insurance premium payments would not be made until a new city manager is seated.
“I want the council and residents to know we are now in violation of the city’s charter and what that entails,” said Brown.
Councilman Bowers made it clear that the city wouldn’t be in “dire straights” as the council has alluded to without a city manager due to a pending state audit.
“I personally contacted the state controller’s office, and yes an audit is coming but not until either the end of this year or early next year,” said Bowers. “I asked about the city manager [position] and what the state told me was completely different than what I was told in city hall, so I’m concerned about information that is being passed that is not correct and I have a big concern with that.”
During the last city council meeting attended by former Mayor Aja Brown, on June 29, she told citizens that if the city didn’t extend Cornwell’s contract, it would have devastating consequences for the city.
“We will proceed tomorrow with the state and as I warned the city council on June 22, the lack of having a confirmed city manager contract, during the conclusion of our corrective action plan, that we are putting the city in jeopardy from the state coming in and assigning their own city manager for the city,” said Brown. “And [when] the city is called to testify in a judicial hearing [June 30] we will proceed forward and inform the state as to the status of the city’s lack of permanent contract in place for city management which continues the long tradition of instability at the city management post, and we will have to report that to the state,” said Brown. “We were here to try and maintain local control of the city of Compton.”
The city went through seven city managers during Aja Brown’s eight years in office: Johnny Ford, Harold Duffey, Jerry Groomes, Bryan Batiste, Cecil Rhambo, and Craig Cornwell.
As of now the city is in a “standstill” and adding the agenda item is in the hands of the city clerk and city attorney.
“I just want to caution the council that you are not to give direction to staff as that is done through the city manager, which the city is without at this time,” said Brown.
Residents have mixed feelings about the city’s current lack of a city manager, but overall welcome the city moving in a new direction, with new leadership.