SACRAMENTO — Laverta S. Montgomery, fired last week as Compton city manager for what her council bosses described as chronic absenteeism, has put them on notice that she plans to continue collecting her $73,452 annual pay for the next three years.
"I don't have a lot to say except that I do have a contract that has more than two years left on it. I intend to see that it's enforced," Montgomery declared on Thursday in her first public response to the council's action.
When asked if she had been surprised by the seemingly sudden firing, Montgomery replied, "yes and no" but declined to elaborate.
Montgomery, 49, was interviewed in Sacramento where she was attending the monthly meeting of the state Lottery Commission, of which she is a member. Gov. George Deukmejian appointed her to the position in January, 1985.
As she spoke after the commission meeting, Montgomery smiled and voiced little bitterness about her firing. Her words were measured, but her tone turned sharp when explaining why she believed her contract should be enforced: "I did give 15 years of my life to the City of Compton and 30 years of residence there." She began her city tenure as an accountant and rose to be appointed city manager four years ago.
Montgomery said it was unclear whether she would need to press her contract demands in court. "It's hard to say," she told reporters. But she quickly added that she does not anticipate any problems from the council.
Montgomery was ousted on a 3-2 vote that came after an unscheduled, closed-door council meeting on Tuesday. The dismissal motion was made by Councilman Robert L. Adams and seconded by Councilman Floyd A. James, both longtime Montgomery backers, and was approved with the support of Councilman Maxcy D. Filer, Montgomery's most frequent critic. Mayor Walter R. Tucker and Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins were opposed.
Viewed as Problem
Council members explained that the manager's absenteeism had long been a problem, and that on that very day she had sent them a memo announcing that she was taking an immediate two-week vacation.
As recently as July 22, however, they had given Montgomery a hearty vote of confidence and a three-year contract extention, while spurning a suggestion by Filer that she be required to start work at City Hall at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Last week, Montgomery rejected the notion that she was difficult to reach during business hours or excessively absent from City Hall.
"When you spend your weekends and your evenings doing city business, what is defined as absenteeism?" Montgomery asked. She estimated that she was spending 60 hours a week on city business, or "most of my waking hours."
"A Rough Year"
She said she was "tired" because "it's been a rough year." She would not explain what had caused the past year to be difficult, but alluded in broad terms to "turmoil in the city," saying, "tempers are up."
According to Montgomery's contract, the council can fire her without having to pay the balance of her salary if she:
Resigns without giving the council 60 days' notice;
Is convicted of a crime arising out of her city duties;
Displays "a pattern of repeated, willful and intentional failure to carry out the policy decisions of the City Council," or,
Willfully abandons her city duties.
The contract requires the council to give her written notice of the reasons for her firing 30 days before the effective date of her dismissal. And after she receives the notice, she has seven days in which to challenge the firing by requesting a hearing before the council.
Letter Being Drafted
Councilman Filer said late Thursday that city officials were still drafting the required letter of dismissal. In effect, she is still employed by the city, although James Goins--a city employee for six years and acting parks and recreation director since May--has been appointed to serve as interim city manager.
Montgomery's attendance at the meeting in Sacramento was her first public appearance since the council's action.
Kevin Brett, a spokesman for the governor, said Montgomery serves on the commission at the pleasure of Deukmejian, who views her dismissal as "a personnel matter between Laverta Montgomery and the City of Compton." She receives $100 a day while acting on lottery business.