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Referendum on Mayor : Compton to Vote on Hiking Pay, Making Job Full Time, Appointing Tucker

Times Staff Writer

Affable Compton dentist Walter R. Tucker is on the verge of getting a raise that would make him one of the state’s highest paid mayors, following only his prominent counterparts in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

To get the money, Tucker must face the city electorate Nov. 5 in an unusual proposition that makes him the only candidate eligible to become Compton’s first full-time mayor.

Compton voters will be asked, first, whether they want a full-time mayor and, second, if the post should be filled by part-time Mayor Tucker. If voters agree, the 60-year-old Tucker--who currently receives $14,400 a year as the city’s highest-ranking elected official--would get sweeping powers over Compton government and a salary of at least $73,452, not counting expenses.

San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein is paid $100,797 to preside over a city eight times larger than Compton, which has 87,400 residents. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley is paid $84,396 to guide a city 36 times greater in size than Compton.

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‘Not a Lot of Money’

Yet, in an interview this week, Tucker insisted that “nowadays, $73,000 is not a lot of money” when weighed against other costs in Compton city government. And he said that if the job is indeed made full time--as he believes it should be--"I’d be earning every dollar I got.”

Not everyone agrees. In the space of only a few weeks, the full-time mayor issue has bitterly divided the Compton City Council, triggered accusations of political cronyism and spawned $63,800 in campaign contributions to Tucker, much of which came from private businesses that profit from dealings with City Hall.

The fund-raising campaign was highlighted by a prime-rib dinner at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton, where roughly 270 people gathered, according to hotel officials. The cost of the affair--more than $7,000--was outlined on reports filed with the city clerk by the Mayor Tucker Tribute Committee.

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Among the largest contributors to the committee, each donating $5,000, were the Los Angeles investment banking firm of Bancroft, O’Conner, Chilton, Lavell, which underwrote $24 million in city bonds for the construction of a hotel; AFCOM, a Seal Beach development company that builds housing in Compton; Western Waste, a Gardena sanitation firm that holds an exclusive contract on the city’s commercial trash hauling, and Brett Mitchell Chevrolet, an automobile dealership with a city-subsidized lease in the Alameda Auto Plaza.

Tucker, a prominent politician for 14 years and now in his second term as mayor, said he has long been frustrated by his inability to solve many of the citizen complaints that he receives at work and at home.

“They call in on pot holes and tree-trimming and crime and dope,” Tucker said. Because only the city manager is currently authorized to order a response from city employees, Tucker said he can do no more than refer callers to that office.

Vows to Sell Practice

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If he were to become a full-time mayor, Tucker said, that would change. He said he would sell his dental practice of 30 years and live only on his mayoral income.

“I’ve seen, as far as the city is concerned, (that) we really need somebody from the city to be on top of what the citizens of this town really want,” said Tucker. “How can you do a good job with a family if the daddy and mommy are part time?”

But City Councilman Maxcy D. Filer states that--even with all of its problems of crime, urban decay and high unemployment--a city the size of Compton doesn’t need a full-time mayor, let alone one so highly paid.

“We don’t even need a $73,000 city manager,” Filer said, referring to the recently raised salary of the appointed administrator, Laverta Montgomery. There is nothing that a full-time mayor could do that the city manager can’t, Filer said.

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Filer said that the whole issue has been improperly handled, with Tucker himself casting the tie-breaking City Council vote that put the measure on the ballot. And he claims that the two councilmen who have most actively pressed the issue--Floyd A. James and Robert L. Adams--merely want to reward Tucker for his past political support.

James did not return several calls from The Times.

Charge Flatly Denied

Adams, however, flatly denied Filer’s charge.

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“I can’t deal with his opinion,” Adams said. “I’m supporting the position, not the individual per se, although I do support Mayor Tucker.

“To me, it is imperative that we have a full-time mayor position in a redeveloping community such as ours. There are so many concerns that we cannot address as part-time (council) people.”

Some of Filer’s objections, Adams said, may stem from the resounding defeat he suffered last spring when he challenged Tucker in the mayoral election. Tucker captured about 80% of the vote.

Tucker also generally denied Filer’s charge, although he declined to comment in detail, saying that he “wouldn’t even want to dignify that.”

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“I don’t want to get in a skunk-throwing contest . . . " the mayor said.

According to city records, the full-time mayor issue was first discussed in earnest at the June 25 City Council meeting. Although no action was taken, council minutes show that Tucker said that “the issue has been lingering long enough.”

Statements Summarized

The record goes on to summarize Tucker as having stressed that “the city must have a full-time Mayor to keep up with the needs of the citizens, adding that often he has to turn down invitations to speak or attend social events, simply because of his work schedule.”

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Over the next several weeks, the debate continued, until a formal ordinance calling for a citywide vote was approved Aug. 9. Voting in favor were Tucker, James and Adams, while Filer was joined in opposition by Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins.

As it appears on the ballot, the measure is essentially divided into two questions. The first asks if voters want to amend the city charter to provide for a full-time mayor. The second asks if Tucker should be allowed to assume the new position--provided the first question passes--on Jan. 1.

If voters defeat the first measure, the second will be voided. The amendments do not outline what would happen if the first measure passed, but voters nixed Tucker.

The amendments should have first been studied, Robbins argued, by a charter revision committee composed of Compton citizens who, in turn, would make a recommendation to the council after more lengthy deliberations.

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“I think that the people of the city of Compton have good sense and will know which way to vote,” Robbins said.

Vote to Break Ties

Aside from raising the mayor’s pay, the charter amendments would give him power to vote only when there is a City Council tie. However, he would also have the power to veto most any council measure to which he objects.

While a vote of three council members could override such a veto, according to the amendments, Filer complains that the mayor could block even those efforts whenever there was a 2-2 council tie.

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The mayor would also be given the council’s current power to hire and fire the city manager as well as other top administrators. And the mayor would also take over much of the manager’s current power to direct key employees.

(City records show that five department heads have since given $100 contributions to the Mayor Tucker Tribute Committee. A $200 contribution was given by Police Cmdr. Ivory Webb, who has been mentioned as a potential replacement for recently retired Police Chief James Carrington.)

In late August, the council agreed to send a sample ballot to city voters, including not only the actual charter amendments but also a statement from James and Adams in support of the measure as well as a statement from Filer and Robbins in opposition.

If Tucker is given such sweeping new authority, Filer and Robbins argued to voters, he could be tempted to appoint friends of political cronies to public jobs: “The battle could become so bitter for glamorous or favorable appointments that it would destroy the ‘merit system’ (of hiring employes based on job qualifications alone).”

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They also again complained that the mayor would be drawing an excessive salary. “The only person that will gain by a full-time mayor is the person sitting in the position,” Filer and Robbins wrote. Without mentioning Tucker by name, they concluded, “Why pay for a rose and receive a dandelion?”

During an interview this week, Filer also objected to a portion of the amendment that called for the mayor’s base salary to be “not less than that of the city manager as of November, 1985.” Filer said he believes that it was no coincidence that the council--over his objections--voted last month to raise Montgomery’s pay from roughly $60,000 to $73,452.

‘Opportunity to Lobby’

For their part, James and Adams countered by telling voters that a full-time mayor “will have greater opportunity to lobby, negotiate and investigate policies, thereby saving the city millions of dollars each year.

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“The mayor must work on a full-time basis,” James and Adams continued, “in order to fight the outside influences that would: a. Establish a toxic waste dump in Compton; b. Allow over 100 trains per day to virtually destory Compton by making east/west travel impossible; c. Support drug trafficking in Compton.”

They further noted that Tucker “is always well-groomed, well-mannered and respectful of all people.”

For a short time, it appeared that the propositions might be kept off the ballot when a group of Compton citizens filed a Superior Court suit challenging the vote on a number of constitutional issues.

On Sept. 27, however, the case was thrown out of court although the judge left the door open for another challenge if the propositions are approved. Councilwoman Robbins said that although no formal groups have openly organized to persuade voters to defeat the full-time mayor measure, signs stating “Vote No on Propositions A and B” have started showing up around town.

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On Oct. 5, a little more than a week after that potential roadblock was removed, Tucker, James and Adams held the fund-raising dinner at the Airport Hilton. Campaign finance statements show that of the $63,800 raised, $11,000 each was given to the campaign funds of James and Adams. Adams said that money went to help extinguish their past campaign debts.


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