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City Manager Criticized : Compton Council Cancels Raises for Top Employees

January 09, 1986|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — While taxpayers were hanging up their stockings with care on Christmas Eve, the Compton City Council was giving Laverta S. Montgomery and her staff something to put in theirs--a handsome pay raise.

But Tuesday night, the council played the Grinch by taking the raise back. And one councilman all but accused the city manager of trying to pull a fast one.

The sudden turnabout was led by Councilman Floyd A. James, who said he had voted to approve the raise for Montgomery and a host of other city workers without having a chance to take a close look at exactly whose salary was being increased and by how much.

Councilman Apologizes

"I have to apologize to my colleagues for voting on this without having information before me," James said, as Montgomery looked on in surprise. "I took staff at its word and I read through the information very quickly and did not have ample time to digest it."

The council's Christmas Eve vote of 4 to 1, with Councilman Maxcy D. Filer casting the lone dissent, gave Montgomery a 10% increase that would have boosted her annual salary to $81,132 from $73,452.

On its face, the 10% hike seemed in line with what the council had simultaneously granted several hundred other city workers, including about 500 members of three employee unions and 172 middle managers or staffers not subject to collective bargaining agreements.

But while these approximately 672 workers had gone without a raise for more than a year, it would have been Montgomery's second increase in roughly three months. On Sept. 17, the council also voted 4 to 1--again with Filer dissenting--to give her a 10% boost, citing her managerial skills.

Average Family Income in City

That meant that since fall, Montgomery's salary would have risen by $14,632--slightly more than what a typical Compton household earns in a full year, according to 1980 federal census data.

The raises granted Christmas Eve were also to have been retroactive to last July, since that is when contracts expired for the police and blue-collar unions.

(Because firefighters had worked without a contract since July, 1984, the council agreed to give them a 12% raise retroactive to January, 1985, and an additional 6% retroactive to July 1, said Michael Heriot, a labor relations assistant to the city manager. A fourth union, representing white-collar city workers, is still negotiating to get a new contact.)

But Tuesday, James said that when he finally studied the salary resolution, "I saw issues in here that I was not pleased with."

James said he questioned the propriety of giving Montgomery a raise "twice in a calendar year."

While stressing that some pay raise may well be deserved, James said: "I think the city manager should justify to the City Council any increases." He added that in the future city leaders should also be given "better backup information" before being asked to vote. "I do believe these increases are pretty high," he said.

With little discussion, the council unanimously voted to rescind the raises to Montgomery and the 172 so-called "unrepresented" workers, including all administrative personnel, middle managers and a handful of seasonal workers.

But even then, James said, he wasn't satisfied with the union agreements the council had also approved. He said some union members had not been told that a looming deficit might force the layoff of employees.

In a further criticism of Montgomery's administration, James said it was impossible for him to tell whether the city, in fact, may be facing a deficit because council members still haven't been provided copies of the city budget they approved months ago.

Through it all, Montgomery sat scribbling notes and nodding that she would comply with James' requests for more information, but she offered no defense of her or her staff's actions.

At her current salary of $73,452, Montgomery is already one of the highest paid municipal chief executives in Los Angeles County, according to a survey conducted last spring by the California League of Cities, and until now has received nothing but praise from the council.

When asked before Tuesday's meeting whether she felt her Christmas Eve raise to $81,132 was justified, Montgomery replied, "Honey, I really think I deserve more than that, to be absolutely frank with you."

As Compton manager, overseeing more than 700 employees and a budget of about $80 million in a city struggling to redevelop, Montgomery said she often faces problems that are "more complex" than those confronting other municipalities.

The debate over Montgomery's salary comes at a time when she is bearing the additional responsibility of serving as one of California's five lottery commissioners. Appointed a year ago by Gov. George Deukmejian, she spent 67 days away from City Hall on lottery business during the first half of the year, for which the state paid her $6,700, according to the most recent records available.

While acknowledging that "in the beginning" the lottery job diverted some of her attention, Montgomery said those demands have decreased and she has continued to meet her responsibilities.

Montgomery also said she has never asked for a salary increase.

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