COMPTON — Despite charges that they were breaking the law and denying the will of the people, the City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to give Mayor Walter R. Tucker a $36,000 raise to compensate him for things that most public officials do for free.
Tucker, a 61-year-old dentist in the midst of his second term as a part-time municipal official, stands to see his annual pay increase from $14,400 as stipulated in the City Charter to $50,400.
Tucker, ignoring a suggestion that he abstain, voted for the raise along with Councilmen Floyd A. James and Robert L. Adams. Opposed were Councilman Maxcy D. Filer and Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins.
James, who supported the increase, described it as "a modest amount" that was necessary considering the public appearance demands often made on the city's highest elected official. But Filer branded Tucker's raise as nothing more than "a gift in every sense of the word."
"We're saying in essence 'Here's some taxpayers' money,' " Filer argued. "And I just don't think we should go along with anything such as that, not only from a legality standpoint, from an ethical and moral standpoint."
Fourth Vote Needed
Filer reminded the council majority that if they sought to finance the increase by amending the city budget, they would need a fourth vote, according to council rules. So the raise might ultimately be blocked unless he or Robbins were to change their minds and agree to appropriate funds. Acting City Manager James Goins said it is unclear as yet how the money will be obtained.
"You are in fact amending the charter of the City of Compton and there's just no way around it," Filer told the council, contending that only a voter referendum can legally alter the current mayoral and council member compensation of $600 a month. (The mayor and council members receive another $600 a month for serving as redevelopment commissioners.) "What you're doing by ordinance," Filer said, "you cannot do."
But Adams said that if Filer is not satisfied with the way the council votes, "he can always take it to court."
He summed up the feelings of the council majority when he praised Tucker for "doing a fantastic job for this city," adding, "I think that we know that the expense of living now is tumultuous on everyone. And I do not feel that the citizens of this city would have any problem with that (pay increase)."
Ballot Measure Rejected
In 1985, however, voters strongly objected to a ballot measure that called for making Tucker a full-time mayor and paying him $73,452--equal to the city manager's salary at the time. Voters defeated the proposal 58% to 42%, although the same council majority vigorously campaigned for its passage using a political war chest of $63,800 raised principally from legal, financial and business firms that had contracts or frequent dealings with the city.
At a council meeting earlier this month, Tucker asked his colleagues to again place the full-time mayor issue on the ballot for this spring's City Council election. (The terms of Filer and Robbins are due to expire.) But on Jan. 16, a vote to draft a referendum measure failed when the council deadlocked 2-2. Tucker and James were offset by Filer and Robbins, and Adams was absent.
That set the stage for Tuesday, when city administrators presented a carefully-worded ordinance that purported to sidestep the charter restrictions and require only council approval.
Council Added Duties
Chief Deputy City Atty. Legrand H. Clegg II reported that "a conservative" interpretation of the charter seemed to permit a pay raise for the mayor if he were assigned "new and additional duties . . . outside the scope of the elective office." So the council directed Tucker to serve as Compton's "official representative" to the League of California Cities, the California Contract Cities Assn., the Independent Cities Assn., the National League of Cities and two intra-county government committees.
Public officials in most cities frequently attend conventions sponsored by those groups, but seek reimbursement only for their hotel, travel and meal expenses.
"For me to speak on this seems like it would be self-serving," Tucker said, but then he embarked on a lengthy and rambling discourse in defense of the pay raise.
Tucker said he felt that the raise was justified because he spends many hours away from his family in order to attend functions as the city's representative. At times, his 30-year dental practice also has taken a back seat.
Contacted at Work
For example, when the mayor was recently contacted at his dental office by County Supervisor Deane Dana, "I had to stop from waiting on patients, and you can imagine when you're confronted by things like this you might pull the wrong tooth or whatever," Tucker said.
As for the amount of compensation, Tucker said, "I don't think $3,000 a month would break . . . a city this size."
Robbins stressed that she was not against a raise for the mayor, but "I just believe that this is not the time nor the legal way to do it. . . . I do not think any of us ran for the council for the money it pays. We all knew that it was a part-time job and it would take many more hours of our time.
"This is the way I was raised," she explained. "My father said, 'You must be a giver, not a taker,' "
Robbins urged the council not to take the mood of the voters lightly. "Taxes in Compton are the highest they've ever been and we've had to lay off too many city workers in this time of unemployment," she said.