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Inglewood City Manager Voted Lucrative New Pact

Times Staff Writer

The Inglewood City Council has granted veteran City Manager Paul Eckles a 3-year contract extension giving him a significant salary increase and an improved severance pay package should his duties be diminished by council ordinance or City Charter amendment.

Councilman Daniel Tabor cast the only opposing vote at Tuesday’s council meeting, saying the council should have negotiated with Eckles after he submitted the contract proposal. If the contract were invoked today, it would provide him with more than six months of severance pay and compensation for unused sick leave.

The contract provisions and Tabor’s dissent reflect political uncertainty at Inglewood City Hall. An election for three council seats is scheduled this year, and voting for a fourth is possible depending on the outcome of a court fight. Also, Tabor recently called for the creation of council committees to help manage the city and increase the power of a predominantly black council over a largely white city administration.

But on Wednesday, Tabor praised Eckles and insisted that there was no racial factor in his vote against the contract.

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A 2-hour executive session preceded the vote to extend the contract, which makes Eckles one of the best-paid city administrators in the nation with an estimated $122,400 in salary and benefits.

Politically Astute

All four council members praised Eckles, 48, a politically astute administrator credited with keeping the city’s economy and services strong during years of rapid racial and ethnic change. Voting for the new agreement were Mayor Edward Vincent, Councilman Anthony Scardenzan and Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas. (The fifth council seat is vacant because of the death of Councilwoman Ann Wilk last month.)

Eckles said: “The average tenure of a city manager is four years. I have been city manager 15 years. I think I’m a known quantity to the council and to the community. I don’t think there should be any surprises.”

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Council members said Eckles had earned an extension and improvement of his contract, which was in its third and final year.

“I hope we can have you here for 15 more years,” Vincent told Eckles, who came to the city as an assistant city manager in 1973 and became manager in 1975. “You have shown a true love for this city.”

Eckles said he has “a real good feeling” about the coming years. He said his top priorities are adding 20 police officers through a new police assessment tax approved by voters in November, maintaining the city’s sound financial status and completing a program to recycle residential land blighted by airport noise for commercial and industrial use.

Eckles earns a base salary of $106,432, officials said, with 15% in deferred compensation bringing salary and benefits to an estimated $122,400. The city also pays for his car. In 1984 the city lent Eckles $275,000 to buy a house, and in 1985 council members changed the interest rate from 11% to a floating rate tied to what the city earns on the money it invests in the California Local Agency Investment Fund. Eckles’ current loan rate is 7.9%, officials said.

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The new 3-year contract took effect Tuesday. It gives Eckles a 4.5% annual cost-of-living increase effective each July. The other major change in the contract is the improvement in the severance terms, which previously were fixed at six months’ pay. The new severance agreement grants Eckles a week’s pay for every six months he has worked for the city since he was hired in December, 1973.

The severance clause would take effect if the city violates the contract. Eckles also may declare himself “terminated” and take the severance pay if he feels that his duties are “materially diminished by charter amendment or ordinance,” the contract states.

Uncertain Future

Elections will be held in April for the council seats of Tabor, Scardenzan and Wilk. Another election is possible if an appellate court upholds the 1987 annulment of Thomas’ election. The possibility of four new council members contributes to uncertainty about the future of Eckles and other administrators.

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But Eckles said that although the severance provision is new, it is not unusual. “I’m not really concerned with that aspect of the future,” he said. “We’ll work with whoever is on the council.”

Tabor said he has full confidence in Eckles. But he said Wednesday that the council should have negotiated before giving Eckles a contract that “locks in a 3-year deal” regardless of the city’s fiscal situation and does not establish specific criteria for judging performance.

“The issue is not Paul Eckles,” Tabor said. “The issue is that the council had a chance to negotiate and make a counteroffer, and it didn’t.”

Other council members said at Tuesday’s meeting that they had discussed the contract and Eckles’ performance sufficiently and were prepared to act on it.

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Eckles said he does not object to a more formal evaluation, such as Tabor requested.

Protective Language

Tabor also criticized the contract language that protects Eckles from attempts to reduce his power.

“Specifically, it provides that neither charter change or ordinance should affect his job,” Tabor said in a written statement. “In other words, neither the vote of the people nor a vote of the City Council can change or alter his situation. It . . . potentially makes it financially irresponsible to increase the role and responsibility of the City Council, including the mayor.”

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Tabor, a self-described advocate of increasing community input into city government, recently accused the council of acting as a rubber stamp for administrators. He wants the city to consider increasing the power and pay of council members by having them chair committees that oversee broad areas of government operations such as economic development and public safety. The committees would work directly with department heads.

Tabor said Wednesday that the contract raises an obstacle to such committees and to other initiatives such as a charter amendment, defeated by voters in 1987, that would have given Inglewood a full-time mayor.

“Let’s say the people vote to have committees,” Tabor said. “Then he can consider himself terminated and collect all those termination benefits.”

Eckles said he is protecting himself because “no city manager wants to lock himself into the position of being a highly paid figurehead.”

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Smooth on Surface

Eckles, his two top deputies and the city attorney are white executives of a city that is 55% black and 30% Latino and has a predominantly black City Council. Despite the city’s contentious politics, race relations are smooth on the surface, and racial issues are almost never raised in public.

In saying Wednesday that race is not a factor in his opposition to Eckles’ contract, Tabor said: “If I was putting together a management team to run the city, Paul Eckles would be a part of that team.”

But Tabor did say that his predominantly black constituents feel that the council has been a rubber stamp for city administrators and should do more to assert itself.

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Eckles said committees such as those suggested by Tabor are rarely used in cities with 5-member councils. They are more common in cities with larger councils, he said. But Eckles said “nothing stands in the way” of increasing participation by council members, adding: “I’m amenable to however the council would like to operate.”


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