Vernon Administrator Retires Abruptly

City council expected to appoint interim.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

The city of Vernon will soon have a new interim city administrator at the helm following the abrupt retirement of Mark Whitworth, who exits with six months in severance pay.

Update: Vernon Appoints Interim City Administrator 

Whitworth is the fourth administrator to leave in 10 years. The three before him — Bruce Malkenhorst Sr., Eric Fresch and Donal O’Callaghan — all left under a cloud of political corruption and allegations of wrongdoing. Whitworth, the city’s fire chief at the time, was appointed Interim City Administrator in 2010 when O’Callaghan was suspended while being investigated on felony corruption charges to which he later pleaded guilty.

Whitworth was later made the permanent administrator, charged with shepherding the city through a tumultuous era of transformation.

Lea este artículo en Español: Administrador de Vernon se Retira Abruptamente

His sudden departure comes just weeks after he announced he would retire on May 2 of this year, giving the city ample time to find a replacement. At the time, Whitworth said May was a “firm date.”

Vernon Deputy City Clerk Ana Barcia confirmed Monday that Whitworth retired Dec 28 but would not elaborate further on what prompted the former city administrator to leave 5 months ahead of schedule.

Vernon is no stranger to controversy when it comes to its public officials, so Whitworth’s sudden departure has caused some people in the city to speculate he was forced out of office during a closed-session meeting the same day he retired.

In an email to EGP, a person who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation noted that the agenda for the closed-session included discussion with legal counsel over “significant exposure to litigation.” Also on the agenda was discussion of the public employment of city administrator, the appointment of an interim city administrator and an item regarding the discipline/dismissal/release of a public employee, who the email writer speculated was Whitworth.

The meeting lasted three hours after which Special Legal Counsel Joung Yim announced there was no reportable action taken, according to city minutes.

On Wednesday, however, through a freedom of information request, EGP obtained from the city a copy of a settlement agreement between Vernon and Whitworth that seems to demonstrate city officials were willing to pay for his early departure.

According to the settlement, Whitworth, an at-will employee, will receive nearly $147,000 in severance pay, despite not being entitled to such pay under Section 6 (E) of his contract, which states if he “voluntarily resigns or retires … City shall have no obligation to pay any severance provided in this section…”

Former city administrator Mark Whitworth during a city council meeting. (City of Vernon)

Former city administrator Mark Whitworth during a city council meeting. (City of Vernon)

The settlement agreement, in great detail, releases the city, it’s employees, governing body, or agents from being the subject of any lawsuit brought by Whitworth or a group in which he is a named participant claiming any wrongdoing by the city.

It goes on to state that execution of the settlement is not to be “construed as an admission by City or Whitworth of any unlawful or wrongful acts,” against each other or any other person.

According to Councilwoman Melissa Ybarra, however, speculation that something untoward is afoot is unfounded. She assured that Whitworth’s decision to retire early was “amicable,” adding that the litigation discussed at the meeting had nothing to do with the city administrator.

“I’ve been getting questions from people, but I want to stress there was nothing illegal about it,” she said. “Mark [Whitworth] was not pushed into retirement.”

Without divulging what was said in closed session, Ybarra said Whitworth’s earlier retirement actually falls in line with the city’s recruitment and hiring timeline for a new city administrator.

She added that the city expects to hire his permanent replacement within the next two months.

The city council will take up the appointment on an interim administrator during a special closed session meeting at 2 p.m. today, Thursday, according to City Clerk Maria Ayala.

Vernon’s Independent Reform Monitor John Van de Kamp told EGP he anticipated that some people would question Whitworth’s abrupt departure and advised city staff to release a statement.

Van de Kamp said he actually expected Whitworth’s to retire sooner based on previous conversations with the former city administrator.

“He [Whitworth] deserves a lot of credit, he came in during a difficult time,” he said. “My guess is there will be, and should be, substantial celebration” honoring his tenure in the city.

Whitworth helped turn the city around, echoed Jim Andreoly Jr. of Baker Commodities. He did it by executing the reform process, he told EGP.

“The next city administrator will have big shoes to fill,” Andreoly Jr. said, explaining that Vernon is undergoing a major transitional period.

The hiring of a new city administrator and several department heads in coming months will be some of the most important decisions the city council will make in recent years, Van de Kamp told EGP.

“All it takes is a bad administrator and we go back to the way things were.”

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

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January 7, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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