COMPTON — The city is facing a state audit after failing to submit financial statements for multiple years. The audit comes at a time when there is visible dysfunction on the council, directly related to the employment status of the city manager.
New members of the City Council were sworn in on July 1 and held their first council meeting July 6, with a crucial item pertaining to a contract extension for City Manager Craig Cornwell.
The previous council rejected a four-year contract extension for Cornwell on June 22, which former Mayor Aja Brown said could have devastating ramifications for the residents.
A special meeting was called for June 29, to again address extending Cornwell’s contract, which ended with the council’s inability to meet due to lack of quorum.
During the July 6 meeting, a closed session lasted over three hours, with City Attorney Damon Brown reporting out that the council amended Cornwell’s contract extension to one year, instead of four.
Public commenters gave mixed reviews of Cornwell’s performance.
“I suggest the council vote no as there are several lawsuits against the city because of Cornwell costing the city millions of dollars,” Robert Ray said. “He isn’t doing his job: traffic signals out for two years, and the state auditor lists Compton as the worst city in the state because of our audits being non-existent, which is due to poor management.”
“I will ask council not to extend his contract because when [Cornwell] was city attorney he did a terrible job, and now being a city manager, he’s made things worse,” Elias Acevedo said.
“I’m rather appalled that this issue keeps coming up regarding the city manager’s extension of his contract. Why is it continuing to be shoved down the community’s throat?” Mark Smith asked. “The city is in a disarray and the state auditors says the city is fiscally challenged and why do we keep revisiting this?”
Other residents said the extension of Cornwell’s contract is crucial to not only the community, but the city to maintain governance of its own affairs.
“I hope to see a new council that works together, and he’s a good friend of mine, and hope his contract is extended,” said Barbara Calhoun, a former City Council member. “Every time I have called Cornwell, he has responded.”
The council initially voted 2-2, with Councilmen Jonathan Bowers and Isaac Galvan voting against the contract extension and Mayor Emma Sharif and Councilwoman Michelle Chambers voting in favor.
The discussion then shifted to the city being in violation of the city’s charter, which mandates that the city have a city manager, which as of now, the city doesn’t have.
The city attorney Brown said that the governance of the city hangs in the balance and documents could not be executed out of his office due to the absence of a city manager.
Chambers then asked to have the council re-consider her vote on the matter, which changed the vote to 2-1-1 with Bowers and Galvan dissenting, Sharif affirming and Chambers abstaining.
The council adjourned the meeting at 11:08 p.m. and will continue the meeting on July 8 at 5:30 p.m. in order to discuss what the next steps are.
“I think the smart thing to do is extend Cornwell’s contract an additional year to get through this audit, and give the city the time to conduct a nationwide search, if that is what they choose to do,” Nina Childs said. “There are some residents pushing for a state takeover of the city, which is a real possibility should we not have a plan in place as to who our city manager will be.”