Inglewood treasurer throws hat into mayoral race

Although disgraced Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt F. Dorn has resigned, his legacy may find new life in the mayor’s office.

Wanda Brown, the city’s treasurer for nearly a quarter century and a staunch Dorn ally, has declared her intention to run for the vacated mayoral post in June’s special election.
Brown said that as mayor one of her primary concerns would be redevelopment initiatives, such as the $2 billion Hollywood Park renovation project.

“Revenues are needed for the city,” Brown said. “We have to appear to be business-friendly to attract investors.”

Brown intends to revive a proposed senior center that was “put in permanent limbo” after the old center was torn down.

Brown said her accomplishments as city treasurer demonstrate her qualifications for the city’s highest elective office.

First elected in 1987, Wanda Brown has served as Inglewood’s treasurer for the past 23 years. Her first foray into Inglewood city politics came in 1983, when she ran for city treasurer and lost badly to incumbent Stan Jones.

In 1985, Brown, backed by then-mayor Ed Vincent, ran for school board on the platform of firing then-Superintendent Rex Fortune. She was defeated by a 3-1 margin after admitting she sent her two children to public schools in Westchester instead of Inglewood.

Not giving up and supported again by Vincent, Brown defeated Jones for city treasurer in June of 1987. Brown has been re-elected five times and has served 24 years as Inglewood’s treasurer – her current term expires in 2011.

But her tenure hasn’t been without controversy.

She created a stir in March 1993 when she proposed a 16-fold increase in her own salary, from less than $4,000 annually to just under $70,000 per year.

The proposal came during a financially difficult time for the city, angering city council members who were under pressure to reduce the budget.

“She is completely out of line,” then-councilman Tony Scardenzan told the Daily Breeze in 1993. “At a time when everyone else is looking at pay cuts she wants a pay increase that is out of orbit.”

Brown disagreed, saying the raise would allow her to spend more time on the job and thereby increase the city’s profits from financial investments. The increase was tabled by the city council until 1996, when her salary was upped to just over $40,000 per year on a 3-2 vote.

Brown said she has invested as much as $600 million on behalf of the city, earning it more than $72 million, though supporting data was not available to substantiate the claim.

“To have never lost a single dollar,” Brown said. “I consider that an achievement.”

Brown also touted her extensive education. She holds both an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I have the best education of anyone in government,” she said. “Better than anyone on the council.”

Brown, 65, said she felt compelled to run to represent “outraged” citizens who are upset with the actions of the current council members since Dorn’s departure, including a call by Councilwoman Judy Dunlap for more oversight of the treasurer.

When asked why some members of the council are seeking stricter control over her office, Brown blamed her alliance with Dorn.

“Well, basically I’m the last person on the council that was supportive of our former mayor,” Brown said.

The tension came to a head during a recent city council meeting, when Dunlap said the city treasurer has too much power and not enough accountability.

“We did not give her the authority to make these decisions,” Dunlap said at the meeting. “We currently have over $100 million invested that we are getting zero percent interest on. She has no oversight.”

Brown accused the council members of unfairly attacking her. “This is nothing more than a witch hunt,” Brown said.

Brown and Dunlap exchanged personal insults, pointing out mistakes in each other’s private financial dealings. “Not once have I received a compliment from her,” Brown said.

Dunlap is considering running for mayor in the June election as well.

Councilman Daniel Tabor proposed a plan to create a financial oversight committee but said Brown had done nothing wrong and that her job was not in jeopardy.

“She hasn’t lost a penny, not one half-cent,” Tabor said during the meeting. “But with a different investment strategy, the city could have made more money.”

During the meeting, Dunlap brought up Inglewood’s Residential Incentive Policy program, which was created by the city council in 1992 to offer low-interest loans to potential city executive employees so that they could live in the city.

At the prodding of then-mayor Dorn, the council modified the program in 2004 to extend the loans to current council members, the city clerk and city treasurer.

Dorn and Brown both took out low interest loans, which were later found to be against the law.

Dorn was set to go to court in January before pleading guilty of public corruption and agreeing to never serve in public office again. Brown, who took out a $235,000 loan, says she did nothing wrong and the district attorney agreed—no charges were filed against her.

“Wanda Brown’s circumstances were substantially different than Mayor Dorn’s,” said Jennifer Lentz Snyder, the assistant head deputy of the public integrity division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and one of the prosecutors that investigated Dorn and Brown.

Snyder said that the reason Dorn’s act was illegal was the fact that he voted for a program that benefitted himself financially. Brown, as the city treasurer, did not have a vote in creating the program.

Dunlap said that city administrators have sent letters to Brown asking that the loan be repaid immediately. Brown has refused to do so.

Snyder said the attorney’s office is no longer investigating Brown and the issue of repaying the loan did not impact their investigation.

“In the absence of any additional information, there is nothing forthcoming in the case,” Snyder said.

But Councilman Ralph Franklin said the city plans to pursue legal action if the funds are not paid soon. “We just want our money,” Franklin said.

While Brown is confident that she represents the best candidate for mayor, some Inglewood residents do not agree.

Diane Sambrano, president of the Historical Society of Centinela Valley and a citizen activist for 14 years, fears that Brown will be unable to accomplish policy goals without being hindered by opposition from city council members.

“It takes three Council members to make anything happen,” Sambrano said. “Wanda hasn’t won the hearts of any other two members of the council.”

Other residents say Brown should be given a chance.

“She has a cloud over her right now,” said Raynald Davis, a resident of Inglewood for 25 years. “But she is irreproachable in honesty and integrity.”

Photo Credit: City of Inglewood Website

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