How much are California taxpayers willing to spend to dissolve the state's tiniest city?
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez is seeking piles of municipal records that Vernon city officials contend would cost millions in state funds to collect and copy.
Vernon's official response: Send us a $200,000 down payment to reproduce the most extensive documents, Speaker Pérez, and we'll be happy to comply.
Shannon Murphy, Pérez's spokeswoman, said the city's cost estimate is absurd and that the Assembly leader is not willing to spend big bucks for public information. Perhaps a compromise can be found, such as sending an Assembly aide and electronic scanner to Vernon to assist the records search, she said.
The fight marks the latest twist in Pérez's bid to dissolve California's smallest city, a Los Angeles County municipality with fewer than 100 residents, because of what Pérez characterizes as a long history of corruption by city officials.
Pérez's Assembly Bill 46, to place Vernon under the immediate control of Los Angeles County, passed the Assembly last week. It now heads to the Senate.
Vernon City Administrator Mark Whitworth estimated that complying with Pérez's seven Public Records Act requests totaling 72 types of documents would take 2,500 hours of staff and attorney time, fill 700 to 800 boxes, and cost between $1.5 million and $3 million.
"I suspect these documents will never be looked at by you or your staff," Whitworth wrote in responding to Pérez's requests.
"In fact, to review these documents literally will take many thousands of hours," Whitworth wrote. "Nevertheless, I want to be very clear, we intend to fully respond to your requests."
Whitworth added in his April 25 letter to Pérez that the public records requests "reiterate your desire to bring the city to a grinding halt as part of your overall effort to kill it."
Murphy characterized Whitworth's letter as a stalling tactic.
"It's ridiculous that the city of Vernon would want to charge upwards of a million dollars for information that should be available publicly," Murphy said.
Pérez has not yet decided how to respond to Whitworth's letter. A meeting with legal counsel is planned this week, she said.
Vernon public records sought by Pérez range from city council minutes between 2000 and 2008 to far more complicated records, including documentation of all electricity and gas purchases involving the city's power plant or other city bodies.
The most extensive records sought -- 22 of the 72 records requests -- would total about 1.3 million pages of information that must be culled from at least three terabytes of electronic data -- "more data than a decent-sized library," Whitworth wrote.
Vernon is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose AB 46, hiring a veritable all-star team of Capitol lobbyists and political strategists.
The city, in combination with business and labor groups, argues that dissolving Vernon could prompt key businesses to leave, threatening thousands of jobs.
Peter Corselli, a Vernon businessman active in the fight against AB 46, has countered Pérez's push for city documents by sending a public records act request to the Capitol seeking the Assembly leader's correspondence, e-mails, phone messages, notes, polling, staff costs and documentation of time spent on the bill.
"How he can get away with spending state resources for his own personal vendetta, to me that's criminal," said Corselli, who has not yet received a response from Pérez's office.
Murphy said she did not have an immediate estimate of state funds spent to research or craft AB 46, but that costs have been minimal. No aides are working on the bill full-time, she said.
"We don't have an outside team of consultants or anything like that," she said.
** Updated at 2 p.m. to include information about Peter Corselli's public records act request to the Assembly.