Voter apathy threatens Inglewood’s special election

What if there were an election and no one voted? That’s what happened in Inglewood, or nearly so. In the November 3, 2009 countywide election, only 86 Inglewood voters cast ballots– less than one twentieth of one percent of the city’s electorate.

Inglewood’s 0.18 percent turnout took place during L.A. County’s consolidated elections. By comparison, turnout rates in other cities for the same election included 8 percent in Compton, 10 percent in Pasadena, and 11 percent in Lancaster, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Statement of Votes Cast. Ballots consisted mainly of city council and school board races.

The specter of low voter turnout concerns Inglewood leaders and community activists, especially in light of an upcoming special municipal election slated for June 8 to fill the mayoral seat vacated by Roosevelt F. Dorn, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict of interest charge in January.

“Nobody believes in government anymore because there are so many crooks, and people don’t care. There is no care in the government anymore,” said Stacie Williams, a community activist and advocate for youth facilities and housing. “It’s just a lack of professionalism and a lack of care in the city of Inglewood and that needs to stop.”

But the publicity surrounding Dorn’s departure may have the opposite effect, actually increasing voter turnout, said Michael McDonald, a voting expert at George Mason University. “It raises the profile of the election,” he said. “People are talking about it and anything that helps communicate to people that there’s an election will improve the turnout.”

A recent election that was strictly municipal fared somewhat better, by comparison. On June 12, 2007 about 18 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots in a runoff for council district 1. The victor, Daniel Tabor, won by 200 votes.

“It [was] a local special election,” McDonald said. “Those are the kind of races that tend to draw the lowest level of turnout.”

Yvonne Horton, Inglewood’s city clerk, said the city’s voter turnout is “no more poor than others.” She said she does plan to do her part to raise awareness about the upcoming election.

“I am going to keep on asking them, every Tuesday [during council meetings] and every time I go out,” Horton said. “We can always try, [but] we can’t make people vote.”

Inglewood voters, like voters everywhere, are far more likely to turn out for a presidential race, said Michael Falkow, Inglewood’s chief information officer. About 84 percent of Inglewood voters cast their ballots in the last presidential race. It was a voting rate that reflected the enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama’s candidacy, which helped push voter turnout nationwide to a 40-year high, according to the Associated Press.

But within the context of national and statewide turnout rates, Inglewood’s voting rate in that election was about average. “The president is the most visible political symbol of America,” said Curtis Gans, an expert in citizen political participation in the U.S at the American University in Washington. “We have an eroded community; therefore fewer and fewer people are participating in local government and the people that do participate tend to be the same people.”

Falkow said that city leaders are hopeful that increased community attendance at city council meetings in the wake of Dorn’s departure will translate into ballots cast in June. But he is skeptical.

“I highly doubt that they’re all coming out just because the Mayor resigned,” Falkow said. “I would think that they’re coming out because they are finding out a lot of things about what’s going on that maybe they didn’t know.”

In the case of Inglewood resident Raynald Davis, that is exactly what happened.

“I want the city council to be transparent and let us know what is happening,” Davis said. “Tell us what we need to know, not what we want to hear.”

According to Gans, it is up to the city to restore the confidence of its residents in local government and inform them of what they stand to lose if they don’t cast their votes.

“They need to improve education, promote civic values, reduce the negative impact of media, strengthen unions, and change the way candidates conduct their campaign,” Gans said.

More on Inglewood’s political struggle:

City loan program proves to be Inglewood Mayor’s downfall

In January, Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn pleaded guilty to a charge of public corruption and was barred from holding public office. Yet, his resignation prompts a look at the patterns of dishonesty and fraud in the history of Inglewood’s city government.

Dorn was involved in the Residence Incentive Program (RIP), a city loan program adopted in Inglewood in 1992. The program provided executive non-elected employees of the city with low-interest mortgages to encourage them to buy homes in Inglewood. Interest rates for these mortgage loans were substantially lower than commercially available rates.

In 2004, Dorn attempted to convince Mark Weinberg, the former city administrator, that the program applied to the mayor as an “executive officer” and that the city should issue him a loan.

Weinberg raised concerns over the legality of the mayor’s request, prompting Dorn to propose a resolution before the city council.

One of Weinberg’s reservations was a lack of public purpose for issuing the loan, given that the Inglewood city charter already required elected officials to live within city limits.

Despite Weinberg’s concerns, the Inglewood City Council, including Dorn, approved the resolution, which was signed into law on June 29, 2004. The resolution expanded the RIP to include “officers of the city as defined in the Inglewood City Charter.” In effect, Dorn created, voted, and approved a law that would give himself a loan.

Five months later, Dorn received a $500,000 loan through the program at an interest rate of 2.39 percent. The loan provisions also stipulated that the rate would never exceed 4.39 percent.

Dorn told the financial officer who prepared his loan that the money would be used to purchase a home for his daughter in Inglewood. Dorn also used the loan to pay off his own mortgage and to open a seven-month, $300,000 Certificate of Deposit that earned him 4.25 percent interest.

This loan, however, became public knowledge when Dorn ran for reelection.

To prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest, Dorn repaid $491,317.05 and led the city council to rescind the resolution.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division began an investigation of Dorn’s activities in 2006, finding him in violation of county code by making a contract in which he had a personal financial interest.

Dorn’s mere involvement with preliminary planning and discussions extending the loan program put him in legal trouble, the District Attorney found.

At the time the RIP was enacted, Weinberg had complete control over who received loans. The idea that Dorn could so easily convince the city council to accommodate his requests called into question the whole system in place at Inglewood City Hall.

Current director of finance in Inglewood, Jeff Muir, consulted with Deputy District attorneys Max Huntsman and Juliet Schmidt on the case. Muir indicated that steps are being taken to ensure a corruption-free financial future for the city. For starters, the elusive credit card program to which Dorn was accustomed for personal expenses has been abolished.

“No elected officials have credit cards currently,” Muir said. “There used to be a reimbursement program for officials after each quarter, but we don’t do that anymore. We now roll any amount like that into compensation for the individual’s services, and it’s not individually done any more.”

To address public concerns, the city is creating an Investment Oversight Committee made up of interested citizens. The committee will meet on a quarterly basis and discuss the treasurer reports for the city, the Inglewood Redevelopment Agency, Inglewood Public Finance Authority, and Housing Authority.

While city council members and elected officials are no longer eligible for the RIP, non-executive employees outside of the city may still apply for a loan.

More on Inglewood’s political struggle:

The rise and fall of former Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn


To the left of the front door at Inglewood City Hall hangs an illuminated blue and white sign featuring the names of the five city council members and the districts they represent. But one name is obscured by a fresh coat of royal blue paint, that of former Mayor Roosevelt Dorn. In the lobby, a frame that until a few weeks ago held his portrait is now empty, as if someone removed Dorn’s image but left the frame as a subtle reminder of his recent fall from grace.

On January 18, Roosevelt Dorn resigned after pleading guilty to the misuse of public funds. Dorn was the second black mayor in the history of Inglewood, a city that is half African American, and his departure left residents divided between those who decried his betrayal of the public trust and those who defended one of their own.

“I don’t think he’s been very good for the city,” said Erin Aubry Kaplan, who has written extensively about the black community in Los Angeles—including articles critical of Dorn — and who grew up in Inglewood. In an interview she affirmed the view she has expressed in the Los Angeles Times and the LA Weekly that Dorn is an authoritarian, autocratic, ego-driven leader who kept the city from growing. Aubry Kaplan said that the damage done by Dorn as mayor far outweighed his accomplishments.

“He did some questionable stuff and didn’t care what people thought,” Aubry Kaplan said. “He got in the way of what could have happened in Inglewood.”

Erin Kaplan’s husband, Alan Kaplan, who teaches American history at Alexander Hamilton High School and serves on the Inglewood Police Commission, said Dorn’s actions damaged the credibility of black leadership in Los Angeles. “[There is a] stereotype that black people can’t handle freedom,” he said.

But Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of “The Assassination of the Black Male Image”, said Dorn has become a scapegoat for intractable problems within Inglewood city government. Problems which have led the city to stagnate and falter in recent years. He disagreed with the notion that Dorn’s departure diminishes the perception in the larger community of the ability of African Americans to govern their own communities.

“I don’t think this was really a case of denigration or even a mud sling at the African American male image,” Hutchinson said. “The charges came from African Americans in the community, not outside of the community.”

Whatever their origin, Michael Falkow, the deputy city administrator said the departure of Dorn, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, altered alliances on the city council and in the community. “Today’s buddies are tomorrow’s enemies,” he said.

Known as Mayor to his community, Reverend to his congregation and Judge to the youth who came before him in his 18 years with the LA County Superior Court, Roosevelt Dorn was a fixture in Inglewood civic life.

He rose from an impoverished childhood in rural Oklahoma to a life of prominence and stature, both in judicial circles and within the African American community. He served as president of One Hundred Black Men, a philanthropic organization where he worked to improve the quality of life for African Americans and other minorities. He promoted Project Hope, a program dedicated to reducing high school dropout rates. He helped lead an effort to pass a $131 million bond initiative to fund programs and services for children. And during his 13-year tenure as mayor, Dorn was credited with welcoming developers, entrepreneurs, and business owners to the city, bringing so-called “big box” retail to Century Boulevard between Crenshaw and Prairie.

But Dorn could also be a polarizing figure, both in the council chambers and in the courtroom, where he routinely stretched the bounds of his judicial authority.

Author Edward Humes deascribed Dorn’s courtroom demeanor in “No Matter How Loud I Shout”: “Dorn once revoked a boy’s probation and sent him to boot camp for six months for refusing his mother’s order to take out the trash. ‘I’m putting you back in control, Mother,’ Dorn said eyes locked on the stunned teenager before him. ‘Next time, if you tell him to take out the garbage, he had better jump.” Humes characterized Dorn’s courtroom speeches “as appropriate for a Sunday sermon as for a courtroom lecture.”

In the end it wasn’t Dorn’s demeanor that did him in, but his financial dealings with the city.

Howard Eley, an Inglewood resident who attended a recent post-Dorn city council meeting, was harsh in his assessment of his former mayor.

“He’s a crook,” Eley said.

Raynald Davis, a longtime Inglewood resident and city hall observer, was more measured in his critique. For him, Dorn’s fall brought to mind a biblical verse from Romans 1:22, “although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”

In Davis’ estimation, Dorn was too smart for his own good –his extensive knowledge of the law and politics led him to abuse his post.

“He lost his good name for $500,000,” Davis said. “[He has] himself to blame. The man did good things, and that’s what makes it a tragedy. He did not have to do what he did.”

Inglewood City Hall photo courtesy of Flickr user bigmikelakers

Read more about Roosevelt Dorn on the South LA Report:
Former Inglewood mayor charged with misusing public funds will receive retirement benefits
DORN RESIGNS: Jury selection continues for Inglewood mayor

Former Inglewood mayor charged with misusing public funds will receive retirement benefits

The night before he was forced out of office, Inglewood’s former Mayor Roosevelt Dorn officially retired, meaning he is entitled to nearly $40,000 a year in retirement benefits for the rest of his life, according to City Administrator Timothy Wanamaker and city council members.

Second District Councilwoman Judy Dunlap explained that city officials receive 3 percent of their salary for each year they worked. Since Dorn, 74, worked 13 years, from 1997 to 2010, he is eligible to earn 39 percent of his salary each year until his death. Dorn’s salary was more than $100,000, said Dunlap.

Fourth District Councilman Ralph Franklin called Dorn’s move, “prudent and strategic decision making.” When asked if it was fair, Franklin said, “As a politician, I have to say yes.”

Dorn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict of interest charge in January after receiving a loan from a city housing incentive program.

More stories on Former Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn:
The rise and fall of former Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn
DORN RESIGNS: Jury selection continues for Inglewood mayor

What does the future hold for the city of Inglewood? In-depth coverage of the city’s political transition:


Inglewood city administrator takes the lead


imageIn a city that is for the moment without an official mayor, Tim Wanamaker, Inglewood’s city administrator, is keeping the daily workings of municipal government on track.

Since the departure of Mayor Roosevelt Dorn in Janaury, Wanamaker has served as the face and figurehead of Inglewood. His image figures prominently on the city’s newly redesigned website and he puts in long hours each day working with the community, staff and the city council.

“The real thing about this city is [that] its people really love it,” he said. “If you get here and begin to be part of this city, you realize it really has a lot to offer.”

Wanamaker manages a multi-million dollar budget, coordinates operations for the city’s twelve departments and oversees the implementation of city ordinances and policies – all in a day’s work.

“My job is to ensure that it’s all being run holistically in a matter that is as efficient as possible, but as effective as possible,” he said in a recent interview.

Wanamaker approaches his role with a positive outlook, what he sees as “the ability to really effect change in the community toward the positive.” He entered public service after working as an architect because he realized he wanted to shape communities, not just design buildings.

In his 20 months on the job, Wanamaker has started to foster an open dialogue between city council members, residents and local business owners with his hands-on approach to running the city’s affairs.

“It works very well for the community, especially the residents and the businesses that invest here, to understand what we’re doing for them and how we’re determining what priorities are in the city,” he said.

Wanamaker started holding public work sessions to enable community members to learn about the challenges and complexities facing the city in determining its budget expenditures.

While Wanamaker strives to engage in frequent dialogue with Inglewood residents and business owners to gauge what services they need, he said his efforts are “nowhere near enough” due to short staffing at city hall and time constraints. He often works 12-hour days, and is on call 24 hours a day.

“It’s a never-ending cycle for you and you just have to learn how to deal with that type of work structure,” he said. “I love what I do.”

The 45-year-old La Puente, Calif., native lives in Century City with his wife, Zina, and daughter, Sydni. He commits to spending time with his daughter on weekends since he has so many tasks to accomplish during the week.

“I try to make sure that I take her to school in the morning because I’m not likely to see her before she goes to bed at night,” he said. “On the weekends, it’s really about her and spending time with her.”

Before Wanamaker moved with his family to lead Inglewood’s city administration, he served five years as the executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning in Buffalo, New York. He was president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., the main development agency in the city of Buffalo, while working in New York as well.

He previously served as the deputy chief of the Redevelopment Authority of Prince George’s County, a Washington, D.C. suburb.

In what he called one of the “toughest professional decisions” of his life, Wanamaker resigned from his post as the top city planner in Buffalo to take on a higher role in municipal government.

“The ability to work on both coasts and different types of structures of government — it’s really my experiences that I have gained that have really helped me perform at this level, as the city administrator for the city of Inglewood,” he said.

He currently manages a city undergoing administrative changes with the resignation of former Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, who served more than a decade in office.

“The Council has been very good at working to understand what is needed and taking actions that they need to take to ensure that we keep the city’s business moving forward,” he said. “That was done day one after Mayor Dorn’s resignation.”

While continuity and order has been maintained, the additional costs required to hold a special election and possibly a runoff election for a new mayor were not anticipated, he said.

“From a management standpoint, it’s a bit of a challenge but it’s not the worse thing that could happen to us,” he added.

In a city suffering like many others from a faltering national economy, Wanamaker has made headway in accomplishing his goal to enhance the city’s financial stability by negotiating the Hollywood Park redevelopment project to transform the 238-acre space into a casino, residential properties, retail and restaurants, which he hopes will bring in much-needed revenue.

For the first time in a couple of decades, Inglewood revamped its Web site to provide greater accessibility for its many low-income residents unfamiliar with Internet usage.

“There has been a real outcry for transparency,” he said. “The residents… really love this city and they wear it on their shoulders. They are very, very enthusiastic in ensuring this city is all that it can be. They are very vocal in making sure that we understand as administrators what they’d like this city to be, both now and in the future.”

Wanamaker’s introductory video message on the city’s new Web site says: “Know that all of us in city government look forward to communicating with you and providing you with the highest level of service.”

“I’ve been very surprised how many people have told me that they’ve seen me on the Web site, so it’s good to see that people are starting to take use of it,” he said. “It’s accomplishing exactly what we want.”