INGLEWOOD — City Treasurer Wanda Brown has filed a $10 million claim against the city of Inglewood, Mayor James T. Butts Jr. and members of the City Council for retaliation, emotional distress and wrongful discharge.
“I put forth my best effort to work with Mayor Butts and the council regarding the declining financial health of the city, debt management, negative unrestricted fund balance, continued overspending, excessive use of consultants, and the need to hire competent personnel especially for the Finance and Public Works departments,” Brown said. “Mayor Butts response was harassment, bullying and retaliation.”
Butts and the City Council cut Brown’s monthly income from $8,355 to $1,404 in late 2020, according to the claim filed Jan. 27.
“He’s the kind of person where if you challenge him, he will attack you,” Brown said in an interview Feb. 5.
Brown began speaking out against the financial condition of the city, in January 2020, after a report was published by former state Sen. John Moorlach, which called out how the city handled its debts. Moorlach accurately predicted the bankruptcy of Orange County in 1994.
Brown was also not happy about her involvement in a housing lottery where Butts and City Manager Artie Fields asked her to draw the winning names for placement on the list for first-time homebuyers where the No. 1 position went to a city employee.
In Brown’s claim, attorney Walter Lack alleges the mayor and City Council also excluded Brown, who previously managed a $200 million investment portfolio, from the city’s investment committee; reduced her investment authority to $50,000; barred her from attending City Council meetings; deactivated her computer; locked her and her staff out of City Hall; and revoked her access to the city’s financial records.
Similar claims have been lodged against the city by former Finance Manager Barbara Ohno, who claimed that the city was “cooking its books” to lure the NFL to the city.
Ohno documented similar instances of being obstructed from performing her duties, and having access to the city’s financial records and software system when she began speaking out against the city’s financial practices.
Ohno was terminated from her employment and the city settled her wrongful termination lawsuit before it went to court.
The city of Inglewood has run a deficit in five of the last six years, has less than $30 million in the city’s reserves, and recently gave the finance department approval to seek a $10 million line of credit to shore up the city’s finances.
The fiscal year 2020-21 budget has a projected $9.8 million shortfall.
Butts has argued that Brown isn’t capable of performing her duties.
“These were duties that were granted by the council over the years,” Butts said. “What she did was show herself incompetent to perform those duties.”
Butts didn’t always feel that way. In April 2018, the city honored Brown for her then 31 years of exemplary service.
“Wanda Brown is intelligent, articulate, and seasoned, and she has more tenure than any other elected official in the city of Inglewood,” Butts said at the time.
“Wanda hasn’t lost a dime of our money,” said Councilmen George Dotson and Ralph Franklin.
“Wanda has great integrity,” said Inglewood resident Gloria Gray, who serves on the West Basin Municipal Water District Board of Directors.
In November, Brown ran unopposed for a ninth term as city treasurer ans is now in her 33rd year of service to Inglewood residents.
Butts has responded to the claims through a city spokesperson acknowledging the restrictions placed on Brown, but denies it was due to retaliation.
He cites her reduction in pay was due to her duties being reduced, that she still has access to the records necessary to complete her defined duties, and email access was suspended temporarily, but has since been restored, due to a violation of a policy regarding offensive language and harassment.
Brown is seeking $10 million in damages for past and future wages lost and past and future emotional distress and attorney’s fees.
This is the second wrongful discharge lawsuit Butts and the city are currently facing at the taxpayers’ expense.
Melanie McDade, the mayor’s former executive assistant, has filed a lawsuit against the mayor, and the city, citing sexual harassment and wrongful termination after she ended what she called a consensual relationship with the mayor.
2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood areas. She can be reached at email@example.com.