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City Manager Says Fired CRA Chief Improperly Solicited Charitable Gifts

Times Staff Writer

City Manager James Goins has accused the former director of the Community Redevelopment Agency of improperly soliciting thousands of dollars in contributions from city vendors and developers on behalf of a charitable group.

The former director, Laurence H. Adams, acknowledges that he approached the vendors and developers, but says that Goins not only sanctioned the fund raising but allowed his staff to assist.

In October, Goins abruptly fired Adams from his CRA post in a move that was all the more intriguing because Adams is the son of City Councilman Robert L. Adams. When the younger Adams chose to fight the dismissal, a personnel dispute that normally would have been decided behind closed doors was elevated to an unusually public feud.

Initially, Goins issued a written statement saying that he and Adams disagreed on how the CRA should operate. Adams, however, appealed his firing to the city’s Personnel Board, contending that Goins failed to follow proper personnel procedure. Goins then took the opportunity to recite a litany of allegations against Adams during his public testimony to the committee.

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Goins has said he fired Adams for, among other things, negotiating with developers on various projects without reporting it to him, circumventing Goins on other issues and dealing directly with the City Council. Goins also says that Adams failed to adequately monitor construction of the $30-million hotel and convention center being built alongside the Artesia Freeway.

Adams has denied those allegations.

As an aside during his testimony, however, Goins raised the issue of Adams’ fund-raising activities, a move Adams charges was a deliberate attempt to sully his reputation.

“He knows I didn’t do anything wrong,” Adams said. “He is just grasping for straws (trying) to degrade me or besmirch my reputation to try and validate his unlawful termination.”

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Goins told the committee that vendors and developers were asked to contribute as much as $6,000 on behalf of the local chapter of Camp Fire Inc. Adams is president of the board of directors. James Chilton, a Century City investment banker who has helped the city float several million dollars in redevelopment bonds, was asked to give $6,000, Goins said.

“Mr. Chilton gave the $6,000,” Goins elaborated during a subsequent interview. “He showed me the return check.

“Department managers (such as Adams) are instructed not to use their positions to solicit favors.”

Chilton confirmed in an interview that he contributed the money to Camp Fire.

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“I represent a company that has done and contemplated doing business in Compton . . . underwriting the bonds for the city of Compton or the Redevelopment Agency,” Chilton said. “And when the Redevelopment Agency executive director asked me to make a contribution I took it very seriously. It appeared to be a worthy charity and (the firm of) Chilton & O’Connor wants to be a good corporate citizen.”

The investment banker declined to say if he felt pressured to make the contribution.

Five-Year Pledge

Chilton said Adams told him that he was trying to raise $100,000 (the actual goal was $125,000, according to Adams and written statements in CRA files about the fund-raising effort) and wanted Chilton to make a five-year pledge.

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“I said anything I gave would be a one-time contribution because I didn’t want to enter into an obligation that caused me to have a commitment over a long period of time,” Chilton said.

Chilton said Adams made the contribution request in late November, 1987. About that time, the CRA and Chilton’s bond firm were wrapping up an agreement to sell more than $30 million in bonds for a city-backed industrial park.

Asked if he had ever been approached by a redevelopment executive in any other city to make such a contribution, Chilton said no. He declined to say whether he considered Adams’ request improper in any way.

Although Adams does not deny that he solicited thousands of dollars in contributions on behalf of Camp Fire, he strongly denies any suggestion that there was a quid pro quo. “It was all handled in a very casual manner. There was no pressure,” he said.

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Adams said his fund-raising activity is a logical extension of his commitment to public service. “I think . . . that people who are doing millions of dollars worth of business (as vendors) with the city of Compton have a social responsibility to help the community service organizations in Compton,” Adams said.

Goins said Adams also asked developer William Dawson of Seal Beach for a $5,000 contribution for the Camp Fire group. Dawson, developer of the Sunny Cove housing tract in Compton and, like Chilton, a frequent contributor to the campaign treasuries of several City Council members, confirmed that Adams asked him for the charitable contribution one day while he was visiting City Hall on business.

Request Turned Down

“I turned him down. . . . I felt that we had overextended our philanthropic (capacity),” said Dawson, adding that he and his firm, AFCOM Development, have donated money to several other charitable causes.

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Another prominent city contractor approached by Adams was Evan Williams, whose Dalton Construction Co. is building the new transit station, which is a Redevelopment Agency project. Williams declined to comment but Adams said the contractor served as chairman of the Camp Fire fund drive and contributed $2,500.

Goins said it does not matter to him that Adams was soliciting the money on behalf of a charitable organization. The actions of the former director, said Goins, are still improper.

“It’s a matter of public policy that department managers be apolitical,” the city manager said. “What I mean by that is you do not use your position to garner favors from people who do business with the city.”

Goins said he is on the board of directors of the Salvation Army in Compton but does not use his position as city manager to solicit contributions from people doing business with the city.

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Such solicitations and contributions, he said, create a sense of obligation on both sides. Someone seeking city business feels obligated to make the contribution and the negotiating position of the city employee who solicits is compromised because he or she feels favorable towards the contributor, Goins said.

Adams says that Goins had never expressed any concern about his fund-raising efforts.

For example, Adams says Goins was present--but raised no complaint--when he sought a contribution from John Mgrdichian, owner of a waste-hauling company that holds a city contract.

Incident Recalled

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Goins says that he recalls the incident and did not like Adams’ actions. But he acknowledges that he never voiced any objection.

His involvement, Adams said, began in late 1986 when he was a special assistant in the city manager’s office. He became CRA director in June, 1987. Adams has a daughter in Camp Fire but she was not enrolled in the program when he first became involved.

Adams says he began raising funds for Compton Camp Fire because it was in danger of folding, meaning that all programming for Compton youngsters would have been taken over by the Los Angeles chapter of the national organization, he said. The organization serves about 2,000 Compton youngsters ages 5 to 18, largely through programs that are operated in conjunction with city schools.

Adams says Goins supported the Camp Fire effort, helping sell tickets to a fund-raising banquet at which he spoke and allowing his staff to sell tickets. Adams also said he was given a list of city vendors and developers by one of Goins’ staff.

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Goins acknowledged his role as the banquet’s keynote speaker and said he and other City Hall employees may have helped sell tickets. Neither of those things, said Goins, is unusual. The city manager insisted, however, that vendor lists are not available for such uses and that selling a ticket for $25 or $50 is “quite a bit different” than asking for $5,000 contributions.

Adams said that when he became CRA director, the agency employees “adopted” Camp Fire, much as corporations often adopt a school. He pointed out that the agency’s commitment to Camp Fire and the $125,000 fund-raising goal is stated in the agency’s five-year plan, which Goins and the council approved.

No Budget Allocation

Goins said it does not matter what the plan says because no money for Camp Fire was ever allocated in the city budget.

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City records show that Adams has also asked the city to directly help Camp Fire financially. At one point, Adams proposed that the city help the group establish a permanent endowment fund. The city would buy the group’s headquarters on Raymond Street and lease back the building to Camp Fire. The sale proceeds would go into the endowment fund and the lease arrangement would let Camp Fire keep using the building.

Goins said he opposes the idea, and the council has never approved it even though it is listed as a goal in the CRA five-year plan.

Whether Adams gets his job back depends on how the personnel committee rules on a very narrow technicality. The committee voted to decide only whether Goins fired Adams in keeping with personnel rules.

In case Adams wins this appeal, Goins has also filed dismissal charges against him for failing to do his job adequately. To challenge that would require another set of hearings. If that case is heard, said Goins, he will show how the CRA director did not perform his duties adequately.

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