COMPTON — Two weeks before it must approve a spending plan for the coming fiscal year, the City Council has ousted the city manager.
The council abruptly placed City Manager James Goins on paid administrative leave Tuesday night and told his senior assistant, Howard Caldwell, to fill in until a new manager is found.
The council apparently rejected the budget Goins submitted shortly before he was ousted by unanimous vote of the five-member council.
The city's financial condition remained unclear because of conflicting statements from the council and the city's staff.
In what it described as its first austerity measure, the council Tuesday ordered employees to turn in all city cars. From now on, the council said, cars will be checked out as needed for city business.
Caldwell, however, emerged from a Wednesday morning meeting with department heads and other top administrators and said: "We don't feel we're in a budget crisis."
But City Controller Timothy Brown, who has been warning for months that the city was going to be in the red, said Wednesday morning that he would stick with the budget projections he gave the council months ago, showing a "severe shortfall."
He also said Wednesday morning that it would be "a fair assumption" that the city has more employees than it can afford to pay, and may have to resort to layoffs.
$65 Million in Revenue
According to estimates that Brown gave the council, the city next year will have only $65 million in revenue and $16 million in what is known as "fund balances," money that can be carried over from the previous budget year but must remain in specific funds and cannot be moved into the general fund, which is used to pay most employees.
Goins' budget document contained several proposed increases in taxes and fees as well as several layoffs. The proposed budget totaled $101.2 million, down from $119.4 million in the current fiscal year ending June 30. He said previously that the budget next year would be lower because the city's redevelopment agency has completed most of its land acquisition and construction.
Among the cuts, Goins suggested eliminating the city's emergency ambulance service. Fire department paramedics, however, would have been retained.
Goins was also recommending demotions of officers in the Fire Department and of four lieutenants in the Police Department to help balance the new budget.
Six unfilled patrol positions in the Police Department would have been eliminated. Four are scheduled to be filled by recruits who are now being trained at the police academy. Over the past three years, the council has appropriated money for 18 new patrol officers. Two employees in the public information office would have been laid off. Brown said that three people in his office also would have lost their jobs.
Goins' budget also called for the elimination of the city's jazz festival and most city publications such as the calendar and the Windows magazine.
Brown said he could not provide a specific deficit estimate because he had not seen the budget that Goins and his staff put together for the council. Brown works directly for the council, not the city manager.
New Proposal Due
In his meeting with department heads Wednesday morning, Caldwell said that he will present a new budget proposal to the council next Tuesday. Despite his assertion that there was no budget crisis, city employees expressed concern over possible layoffs.
One secretary said employees feared there would be layoffs, even when Goins was denying all spring that the city was facing a budget deficit. Goins and Brown became involved in a dispute over the city's finances. Brown insisted that the city was headed for serious trouble and Goins insisted that layoffs could be avoided if the council would agree to raise some taxes and fees, such as water rates.
Meantime, Mayor Walter R. Tucker and two incumbent council members were running for reelection, fighting off criticism from citizens and political opponents that the city was not delivering services that matched the taxes residents were already paying. Tucker was reelected after a runoff but the two council members, Robert L. Adams and Floyd A. James, were defeated.
Under the City Charter, the manager is required to have the proposed budget available for public viewing 10 days before the public budget hearing. Goins handed the council members budget proposals only 10 minutes before the public hearing Tuesday. The late budget apparently sealed his fate.
When an audience packed with city residents heard that their ambulance service was to be cut and that the police force would not have the number of officers the residents had been promised, Goins came under heavy fire. For more than an hour council members and residents railed against the proposed spending cuts and the late delivery of the budget.
After the hearing the council held a closed session and excluded the city staff. After about 45 minutes, Goins was summoned into the meeting. The council then resumed its public meeting and announced that the city manager had been placed on paid administrative leave for 90 days. Goins left the Tuesday night meeting and refused to comment. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Councilwoman Patricia Moore said after the meeting: "We're broke as a city if we have to raise the water rates to balance the budget." Goins' budget did not list a specific amount for the water-rate increase.
Goins came to Compton in 1980 as a special assistant in the city manager's office. He served in a variety of positions before being appointed acting city manager in 1986. In January, 1987, he was named to the post permanently. He previously held government positions in Salt Lake City.
Times Staff Writer Chris Woodyard contributed to this story.