Montgomery Named to Lottery Panel : Compton Fears Losing Manager

Times Staff Writer

Appointment of City Manager Laverta S. Montgomery to the new state Lottery Commission has left the City Council pleased at the recognition--but wondering whether the highly regarded administrator will have enough time left to run this city.

"We, as a council, are going to have to sit down and talk about it with her," said Councilwoman Jane Robbins. "I don't know how much time this is going to take, and we need to do some thinking in terms of her being gone."

A majority of the five-person council said, however, that it will try to resolve any schedule problems that develop.

"It's possible that if this is going to consume her time, we can work something out. I would definitely hate to lose her," said Councilman Floyd James.

Expects No Problems

Montgomery, a 48-year-old Republican, said Thursday in a written statement that she expects no problems balancing the two positions.

"I don't anticipate that the commission will require my full-time effort," she said. "It will require a lot of energy at the outset, but I will not be away from the city for any extended period of time. I have placed responsible people in responsible positions, and city government will continue to function in an effective and efficient manner."

The other four lottery commissioners are aware that there will be times when city duties will not allow her to attend commission meetings, she said.

Gov. George Deukmejian, who appointed the commissioners Tuesday, has made it clear that the positions will be virtually full time for the next several months, as the commission chooses a lottery director, decides the types of games and makes other decisions to get the lottery going.

Of the five commissioners, only Montgomery holds a full-time job. The others are semiretired or retired. All will receive $100, plus expenses, for each day they work.

Top City Administrator

As city manager, Montgomery is Compton's top municipal administrator and is responsible for daily operations in this city of 85,000 people. She earns $66,500 a year and oversees a $67-million budget and 714 full-time employees.

The City Council, her collective boss, works part time. Most of its members are convinced that her leadership, experience in redevelopment law and expertise in municipal bonds has been crucial in bringing new homes and businesses to the city.

In 14 years with Compton--including two as manager, three as redevelopment director and six as controller--Montgomery has been a central figure in virtually every major redevelopment project, they said.

"She looks into everything that's being done in redevelopment," said Robbins. "She knows the bond counsels . . . and I think this is putting the city of Compton on the map. Years ago we were out begging businesses to come in. Now it's just the opposite. She seems to know how to put things together."

To Councilman Robert Adams, Montgomery is "the best city manager Compton has had since I moved here in 1950. . . . When she came on board as manager, all of these projects began to move."

Concerns Remain

Concerns remain, however, about whether Montgomery will be able to balance her responsibilities here with the demands of her state appointment.

"I've got to take a look at things that are coming up that would need her direct attention," said Robbins. "We need to see if some of the things could be delegated, as are many of them anyway."

The councilwoman, an ardent Montgomery supporter, said that even before the appointment, she had heard complaints that Montgomery "needs to spend more time in the office."

Councilman Maxcy Filer said he would not "prejudge" the effects of Montgomery's new duties, but he said he has been concerned about her office hours.

"I believe that a city manager should be there from 8 to 5, from before 8 to after 5, but their (the other council members') and the city manager's theory is that the city manager can come whenever she wants and leave whenever she wants," he said.

Only One 'No' Vote

Filer was the only council member to vote against Montgomery's appointment as permanent city manager in April, 1983.

Montgomery, who a spokeswoman said had been asked by Deukmejian not to give interviews until after the first Lottery Commission meeting Monday, was unavailable for comment.

Mayor Walter Tucker said the splitting of Montgomery's time between Compton and Sacramento "concerns all of us, but I don't want to prejudge. I'm sure we'll be on top of it."

Robbins, James, Adams and Tucker said they would work with Montgomery to resolve time problems that might develop. Robbins and James said they thought a compromise could be negotiated that would keep Montgomery in Compton even if the state post takes much of her time in the next several months.

Whether Montgomery will continue to be paid her full city salary during that period "is a consideration I imagine the council will get into . . . but I personally would be for her receiving her full pay," Adams said.

Pleased by Recognition

Most council members were pleased with the recognition the appointment has brought Compton--a city fighting a high-crime, low-income image--and to Montgomery, an up-through-the-ranks accountant and a Compton resident since 1955.

"On balance it sounds like a plus, and to think the governor would choose her for a position like this means she has credibility," Tucker said.

Montgomery told the council in late December that she was being considered for the Lottery Commission, Adams said.

A spokeswoman for Montgomery confirmed that the manager had not sought the state post and had not considered the job until Deukmejian called her a month ago.

What followed for Montgomery--as it did with the four other candidates--was a background check that the attorney general's office now describes as "the most detailed" it has done on any gubernatorial appointees, including those for the judiciary.

More Than 1,000 Candidates

Finally, Montgomery, who said last year that she may be the only black woman city manager in the country, was chosen from a field of more than 1,000 candidates to serve a five-year commission term. Having switched political parties within the last year, Montgomery is a Republican, as are two other commission members, William J. Johnston and Howard E. Varner.

The lottery law says that no more than three of the five commissioners can be from any one party. The commissioners are Johnston, 58, a former Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent; John M. Price, 65, a longtime district attorney for Sacramento County; Varner, 59, former president of a major restaurant organization, and Kennard W. Webster, 64, a former partner in a national accounting firm.

As the governor's choice to the commission in the field of public administration, Montgomery brings to her new job a solid reputation built upon Compton redevelopment.

She was the redevelopment director from 1974-77, when the city began an ambitious and successful effort to lure warehousing to a strip of land along the Artesia Freeway. The Alameda Auto Plaza also got its start in 1977 under her direction, and she has recently renewed the efforts to attract more dealers to the half-full auto retail center.

She refined her financial skills from 1977 through 1982 as city controller, gaining recognition as head of the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers.

Arranged Affordable Housing

She was appointed temporary city manager in December, 1982, just after the city had broken ground on the $23-million Town Center shopping center across from City Hall. Council members credit her with shepherding the project to completion last year.

Hundreds of new Compton condominiums have been built and sold at affordable prices because Montgomery arranged bond-supported financing that has kept mortgage interest rates below 10%, Adams said.

And in 1984, despite denial of federal assistance and one abortive bond sale, Montgomery arranged the sale of $30 million in bonds for development of Compton's first major hotel. Work on the hotel/convention center is scheduled to begin in the spring.

"She's a decision maker," said James. "She will move forthwith on any proposal. She doesn't let it sit around. That's why the city has progressed as rapidly as it has."

The assessed value of real estate in the redevelopment zone, which includes downtown and the new industrial park, has jumped from $159 million in 1973-74 to $479 million for 1984-85, the city has reported.

A native of Texas, Montgomery moved to Southern California in 1952 and was a civilian accountant for the Air Force for 12 years and an accountant for a private firm for two years before joining the city in 1971.

She is a graduate of El Camino Community College and has attended Pepperdine University.

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