INGLEWOOD — The city’s longtime treasurer is suing the city, the mayor and members of the City Council, alleging that her salary was cut and that she was locked out of City Hall after questioning the handling of the city’s finances.
Wanda M. Brown began speaking out about the city’s finances in early 2020, and eight months later had her duties and salary drastically reduced.
Her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges state Labor Code violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation. She seeks unspecified damages in the suit filed Aug. 18.
One point of contention was an overpayment made to a city contractor, Pinner Construction. Assistant Finance Director Sharon Koike explained the error during a June 2020 City Council meeting that the overpayment did occur, but the money was sitting in the wrong account for close to two years.
“Regarding the song and dance [Mayor James T.] Butts had Sharon come out to cover up the $77,418.26 bond fund payment Butts approved for Pinner Construction, her presentation showed the over payment was settled between two different accounts that had nothing to do with bond proceeds,” Brown said. “That manipulation settled the mathematical difference, but the bond fund account has not been made whole because those dollars have not been put back in that specific account. You cannot play that kind of manipulation game with bond dollars.”
Pinner Construction was the firm selected to build the Inglewood Senior Center.
Brown said Butts and the City Council unanimously voted to reduce her duties and salary, despite Brown’s extensive education and expertise in financial accounting.
“The city is in far worse shape than it was when the city declared a fiscal emergency shortly after former Mayor [Roosevelt] Dorn was removed from the council [in 2010],” Brown said.
Dorn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict of interest charge in January 2010 and was sentenced to two years probation and fined $1,000.
“In 2011, the city had approximately $568 million in assets, and only $475 million in 2020,” Brown said. “In 2011 our liabilities totaled approximately $354 million, and in 2020 they have nearly doubled to $681 million.”
When asked what contributed to the debt, Brown was frank.
“Overspending!” said Brown. “When the city refinanced the pension obligation bonds, instead of paying down the debt, they put the money into the general fund as if it were revenue.”
“In 2011, the city’s unrestricted fund deficit was approximately $74 million,” she said. “In 2020, it has swelled to $504 million.”
In July 2020, Brown predicted the city would be forced to layoff employees, and at the time the mayor accused her of “attempting to incite fear” but he has since voted with the City Council to declare a fiscal emergency and to schedule a special election in November to raise taxes to cover the city’s deficit, which is expected to last the next five years.
“Mayor Butts having total control of the council, means he has the city by the throat with two hands,” Brown said. “I tried to tell the council internally, but had no choice but to go public, and as a result I was retaliated against by having my access to City Hall restricted. I was removed from the council dais had my duties taken away and my salary significantly reduced.”
Brown said Butts defamed her during an August 2020 City Council meeting, saying that because she did not know the procedure for handling bad debts, he had no choice but to reduce her duties and her salary, according to the suit.
In reality, all bad debt identification rests with the Finance Department, not the treasurer, the suit states.
“The bad debt issue was merely subterfuge for [Butts’] real reason for retaliating against Ms. Brown, which was to punish her for publicly voicing her concerns about the negative aspects of the city’s finances and the impropriety of a particular payment by defendant … Butts to one of the city’s contractors,” the suit states.
Butts and the City Council “intentionally engaged in this outrageous conduct with the goal of discrediting, defaming and causing substantial emotional injury and distress to [Brown],” the suit states.
Brown is seeking $10 million in damages.
City News Service contributed to this article.
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.