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Compton's Family Ties: Some See Favoritism, Others a Well-Run City

August 30, 1987|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — When City Manager Laverta S. Montgomery was fired last fall, city workers thought it signaled the end of what they saw as a pattern of favoritism in municipal hiring and promotion.

But in the 10 months since James C. Goins took over, they say, things have only gotten worse.

After the City Council gave Goins the $79,000-a-year city manager's post without competition, he promoted or gave top jobs to:

- Councilman Robert L. Adams' son, Laurence.

- The younger Adams' close friend and former business partner, Paul H. Richards.

- City Atty. Wesley Fenderson Jr.'s wife, Sheila, who, despite her lack of the required college education, was made parks and recreation director over an Olympic gold medalist with a master's degree.

All of this has rekindled allegations of nepotism and croynism that were first raised by city workers during Montgomery's term. Instead of setting a different course, workers contend, the new city manager has only continued a frustrating City Hall tradition.

"The rank and file are wholly upset with what they see happening around them," said Yvonne Day, president of the union representing city professional, technical and clerical employees. "Morale is at an all-time low."

Lack of Independence

Councilman Maxcy D. Filer believes that by putting Adams' son and his close friend in "key positions"--Adams is interim redevelopment director and Richards is an assistant city manager--Goins has demonstrated his lack of independence.

"That means that (councilmen) Bob Adams and Floyd James and (Mayor) Walt Tucker run the city," Filer charged. He said the three often vote as a bloc--as they did to hire Goins as city manager, a job that pays him $28,000 more than what he earned as a department head under Montgomery.

Goins counters that his promotion of Adams and appointments of Richards and Fenderson were entirely justified. He says none of his personnel decisions have involved favoritism.

"I picked the people who I thought could do the best job," Goins said last week.

Said Councilman Adams: "I haven't spoken to Jim Goins or anyone directly about my son." He added that although he supports the city manager's decision to give top jobs to his son and Richards, "if me being on the City Council would impede their lives, I would step down.

"President Kennedy, he appointed his brother as attorney general," Adams said.

Goins acknowledges that employing relatives at City Hall--a practice discouraged by most governments--has long been routine in Compton, where 93 of the 732 city workers, or 12.7%, are linked by blood or marriage.

How that compares to other cities is unclear. Several state and national government associations say they keep no relevant statistics.

Fewer in Downey, Carson

In two neighboring cities of similar population, however, the number of relatives on the payroll is dramatically fewer. In Downey, about six of 437 city employees (1.3%) are related, as are 32 of 705 employees (4.5%) in Carson, spokesmen said.

Although employing relatives isn't illegal, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury criticized Hawthorne city leaders in 1985 for using nepotism to put 10 "relatives, family members, friends or former business associates" on the roughly 325-member full-time staff. Afterward, officials passed a policy against hiring any kin of council members or the city manager.

Compton has an anti-nepotism policy, too, but it isn't an outright ban. Instead, it permits anyone's relatives to be hired as long as the decision is based on their "merit or ability."

When city workers complain about Compton's family ties, they now point in particular to three recent cases:

- Laurence H. Adams, the 31-year-old son of Councilman Adams.

When he was hired by a Montgomery assistant in 1985, he had just finished working as treasurer of his father's successful reelection campaign. Adams was made an "unclassified" employee--not required to take a Civil Service test--and given a project manager's post in the Community Redevelopment Agency.

At the time, Councilman Filer branded the hiring as nepotism and complained that existing city workers had not been allowed to compete for the job.

When Goins took over, he made Adams a "special assistant" to the city manager and, a few months later, interim redevelopment director upon the previous director's retirement.

Now Adams deals daily with many of the same developers, attorneys and business leaders from whom he has solicited campaign contributions for his father in recent years.

But Adams said last week that his father has exercized "no influence . . . whatsoever" over his employment. "I can't help the fact that I'm related to Councilman Adams. That's just a fact of nature that is irreversible."

"Uniquely Qualified"

Adams said his "understanding of public finance" and the city itself makes him "uniquely qualified" for his job. In the late 1970s, he earned a bachelor's degree in public administration and also did work toward a master's.

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