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Making the Grade? : Administrator Challenged by Budget Crunch, Mixed Reviews From Council

July 17, 1986|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — It's hard not to notice the small statue of Napoleon Bonaparte perched on a coffee table in City Administrator Ora Lampman's office.

The statue itself is not so extraordinary except that the face peering at visitors from the 2-foot-high figurine is not the visage of the legendary general.

Instead, sporting military garb and a telltale hand pressed against the breast, the sculpture bears the unmistakable grin of Lampman himself.

"I've always treasured that," said the 5-foot-5 Lampman, proudly posing next to the miniature general at a photographer's request. "The likeness is so good in the face."

To his supporters, the statuette is merely a joke about Lampman's height and his gregarious approach to managing Los Angeles County's sixth largest city. It was, in fact, a gift from a previous city administrator who used to refer affectionately to Lampman as "Little Napoleon."

But to some critics, displeased with the power they say Lampman has wielded, the statue bears more than just an artistic resemblance.

"Napoleon's philosophy was divide and conquer," said Councilwoman Donna Smith, perhaps Lampman's most vocal critic.

"Whether the statue has anything to do with the way he administers business at City Hall, I don't know, but this council is divided," Smith said. "And sometimes he just runs with the ball without knowing if that's what the council wants him to do or not."

Facing Biggest Challenge

In the wake of Smith's continuing criticism, Pomona's current fiscal crunch and a drunk driving charge to be decided next month, Lampman is facing what could be the biggest challenge in his tenure as city administrator.

Detractors say that Lampman has acted too independently, that he has failed to communicate all his actions to the council and that he has not presented council members with a full range of options for resolving what officials say is the worst financial crisis in Pomona's history.

His supporters, however, argue that Lampman is being unfairly blamed for problems beyond his control, that the criticism has hampered him from performing his duties effectively and that the council should not try to take over administrative functions.

When council members were asked in separate interviews to grade Lampman's performance at the $72,000-a-year job, the evaluations ranged from 'A-' to 'C-'. Councilman E.J. (Jay) Gaulding gave him an 'A-', Councilman Vernon Weigand gave him a 'B+', Mayor G. Stanton Selby gave him a 'B' and Smith and Vice Mayor Mark Nymeyer both gave him 'C-'s.

Those divisions could become particularly critical to Lampman, who faces a Citrus Municipal Court jury trial Aug. 12 on a drunk driving charge. He was arrested last December in a city vehicle.

Lampman, who is given unrestricted use of a city car, said that no matter what happens at his trial he already is "paying a penalty" because of publicity surrounding the incident.

Although most council members have said that the charge is unrelated to Lampman's performance as administrator, Selby said that public criticism could pressure the council into seeking a replacement for Lampman if he is convicted.

"It may become something that will force us to make a decision we don't want to make," Selby said. "If I was pushed into a corner, I might have to do something, because of my position, that professionally I wouldn't want to."

Indeed, the majority of the council considers Lampman to be a capable and competent administrator who too often is used as a scapegoat for problems in this city of 112,000.

Amiable Personality

Co-workers describe him as likable, good-humored and able to easily shrug off the criticism that they say comes with the turf.

"He has the smooth, easy, quiet personality that gets the job done without raising a lot of ruckus," Weigand said. "The greatest problem is he has too many would-be supervisors wanting to see things their own way."

But as the council began grappling several months ago with the 1986-87 budget, both Smith and Nymeyer charged that Lampman had failed to provide them with all the information necessary to resolve a projected $3.9-million shortfall.

"The staff, under the leadership of Mr. Lampman, could have provided us with many more options and alternatives," Nymeyer said. "The City Council is five laymen. . . .In a real sense, we rely on both sides of the coin being presented to us."

Narrow Approval

Divisions among council members may have reached their widest when the City Council, in a meeting interrupted by demands from the audience to oust Lampman, voted 3 to 2 last month to approve a controversial $37.9-million budget that called for a 57% increase in the local utility tax.

Smith, who blamed Lampman during that meeting for an apparent typographical error in the agenda that led her to believe a second vote would be taken on the utility-tax hike, since has made it clear that she has no confidence in Lampman's ability as an administrator.

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