A former Compton city manager claims he was a victim of “politics” which led to his employment contract not being renewed by the council in July 2021. He is seeking unspecified damages and states his claim is not limited to a civil case.
Craig Cornwell started his career in Compton in the City Attorney’s office. Between 2008-2019, Cornwell served as the elected City Attorney.
In July 2019, Cornwell was appointed City Manager after the abrupt resignation of Cecil Rhambo. Cornwell’s contract was for a two-year term.
A March 2020 letter, addressed to former Mayor Aja Brown, from the auditing firm Eadie + Payne, outlined their risk assessment as a means of amending their professional services agreement to produce annual audits that the city was severely behind on.
Their assessment included the “turnover” in the city manager’s office as a top concern.
“Turnover in positions and departments within the City that oversee fiscal management such as the City Manager, Controller, and accounting positions in the Controller’s office contribute to lack of financital reporting for years 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018,” wrote Donald Ecker and Hong Nguyen.
According to Cornwell’s claim, on July 28, 2020, he received his first personnel evaluation, and led by Aja Brown, the council acknowledged he demonstrated outstanding performance in the new role.
Then things went left.
The claim states “On August 3, 2020, Cornwell proposed to move Compton elections from odd to even years, to be consistent with California’s statewide election calendar…designed to create significant financial savings for the City and increase voter turnout.”
Moving the election cycle would have garnered an additional year on the council for Brown and Councilman Isaac Galvan.
The proposal failed when Council members Galvan, Tana McCoy, and Emma Sharif voted against the matter.
“We are informed that purely out of ill will, and under the perception that Cornwell was a political ally of Brown, the aforementioned adopted a concerted plan to oust Cornwell as political “pay back” agasint Brown.”
By September 2020, Councilman Galvan requested an item be placed on the agenda to terminate Cornwell’s contract. Galvan consistently reported, during council meetings, that concerns and emails to Cornwell were consistently ignored and not addressed.
On March 16, 2021, Cornwell requested an extension of his employment agreement, with the council instead voting to discuss a counter offer, that was voted on 4-1, with Galvan being the lone dissenter.
Cornwell claims to have accepted the counter offer, which wasn’t yet approved with a formal vote.
Brown implored the council to retain Cornwell in the city manager’s position as a mandate to show [state] auditors stability in leadership and stating she had “investors to answer to” who were in the middle of negotiating deals related to property owned by the City’s Successor Agency, that were in discussions for development.
City Hall insiders allege documents related to those deals are missing, along with concerns over where the money from those sales are being deposited.
“There are millions of dollars missing,” said a member of Council who refused to be identified. “The city manager’s office is not being forthcoming with those documents when requested by the Controller either.”
The claim goes on to state that by presenting Cornwell with an amended employment agreement, it should have been honored, despite the fact it was rejected numerous times before a new council was seated in July 2021.
The council ultimately declined to renew his contract in July 2021.
Cornwell feels entitled to the job as City Manager, and is now prepared to bring forward one or more legal causes of action related to damages he has suffered as a result of being unemployed.
Cornwell has retained the law office of John Martin, and submitted his claim to Controller Sharon Rahban, who is alleged to be a former employer of Eadie + Payne and City Clerk Alita Godwin.
There is no specific dollar amount attached to damages and noted “this claim will not be limited to a civil case”.
Cornwell has come under fire from the community from allegations ranging from illegal search and seizure of marijuana dispensaries, failure to address infrastructure issues, and being non-responsive to requests made by members of the council.
Read the full claim by clicking here.