COMPTON — After a 20-minute meeting behind closed doors, the City Council Tuesday unexpectedly fired four-year City Manager Laverta S. Montgomery because council members complained that she has been chronically absent from work.
With no public discussion, Councilman Robert L. Adams moved to dismiss Montgomery, a 15-year city employee credited with sparking much of the city's recent residential and commercial redevelopment. Since February, 1985, she has also served as one of California's five state lottery commissioners.
The motion was swiftly seconded by Councilman Floyd A. James, a longtime Montgomery supporter, and passed with backing from Councilman Maxcy D. Filer, the manager's most frequent critic. "I think this will help the city," Filer said later.
Opposing the chief administrator's removal were Mayor Walter R. Tucker and Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins. State law allows a city council to discuss personnel matters in private as long as they take final action in public.
Parks Director Chosen
Acting parks and recreation Director James Goins, 43, was named as Montgomery's temporary replacement. A city employee for six years, Goins held several administrative posts before Montgomery appointed him acting parks director in May.
Filer said he hopes the council can select a permanent city manager within 90 days.
Adams said he voted to give the job to Goins--rather than current Montgomery assistant Howard Caldwell--because he wanted someone who can make "a fresh start" and bring a new perspective to the administration. But Filer stressed that Caldwell "in my opinion has an equal chance" to win the permanent position.
Coupled with the complaints about Montgomery's absence, the council majority was apparently irked by a memo that she had sent to them earlier in the day announcing that she was immediately taking a two-week vacation and would return Nov. 12.
Montgomery, whose $73,452 annual salary made her one of the highest paid municipal executives in Los Angeles County, could not be reached for comment.
'A Lot of Complaints'
"I supported her when we first named her city manager," Adams said. But "for at least six months," he said, the council has been "getting a lot of complaints" from citizens who have reported being unable to reach the 49-year-old administrator during business hours. Even council members have "been unable to reach her on so many occasions," Adams said.
Adams said he was particularly surprised to receive Montgomery's memo Tuesday without any advance warning that she would be leaving on vacation.
Filer said he was also caught off guard by Montgomery's sudden vacation as well as the move by his colleagues to fire her. Over the past year, Filer said, Montgomery "has been counseled orally" about not appearing for work often enough, and six months ago the council scolded her in writing.
"I've said it 10,000 times, I think she's been gone (from the office) about 10 hours a week," Filer said. "She hasn't been to work regularly in over a year."
Filer said that on one occasion, Montgomery "gave an explanation . . . that she was ill." But he said he doesn't believe Montgomery is ill now.
James declined to detail his reasons for voting to fire her. Although he had often expressed confidence in the manager, he openly criticized her in January after discovering that a 10% Christmas pay increase given to all administrative employees included one for Montgomery--even though she had received a 10% raise three months before.
'Had Been Doing Good Job'
Robbins said she did not feel that now "was the proper time" to fire Montgomery, because "she had been doing a good job as city manager." Robbins voted against naming Goins as temporary city manager, but later explained that she did so only to emphasize her opposition to Montgomery's dismissal.
Midway through the Tuesday afternoon meeting, Tucker left for an out-of-town trip and could not be reached for comment.
When Gov. George Deukmejian appointed Montgomery to the Lottery Commission, the council expressed concern that those duties might distract her from city affairs. But on Tuesday, council members said Montgomery's lottery service had not been a problem. William J. Seaton, director of public affairs for the state commission, said Montgomery has in fact missed several recent meetings, citing the press of city business.
Montgomery began her rise in Compton government after serving for three years as a city accountant. She headed the redevelopment agency in 1974. Three years later, she became city controller and was appointed city manager in December, 1982. Montgomery is the only black woman city manager in the country.
Times Staff Writer Mark Gladstone contributed to this report.