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Chaos clouds Compton’s fate

After a chaotic meeting full of reversals, the Compton City Council late Tuesday apparently moved to approve dozens of layoffs to avert a potential government shutdown.

The council, acting as the redevelopment commission, voted 3 to 2 to approve a budget that will eliminate about 90 jobs, then went into closed session — leaving the final council vote up in the air.

It was unclear whether the council realized a final vote had not been cast.

The apparent approval of the budget will avert a potential government shutdown, but the city faces lawsuits from employees’ unions and individual workers over the process.

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City employees in attendance were stunned.

“Actually, we don’t know what budget they just adopted,” said Tony Branson, a Compton Fire Department captain and president of the firefighters’ union. “I don’t think it was fair, and I don’t think it was legal.”

City officials had said that without a budget in place, all but public safety and some other essential employees would be furloughed. New City Councilwoman Janna Zurita cast the deciding vote on the spending proposal, which included revisions the city manager gave the panel at 5 p.m.

The city’s independent auditor has questioned whether Compton can remain solvent. The general fund has used up its reserves and ended the fiscal year June 30 with a deficit of $23.8 million, about 40% of the budget, according to expenditure and revenue reports provided by the city.

That figure was increased by $11.6 million because of a transfer of funds from the general fund to pay off an accumulated deficit in the city’s general liability fund. Last year, the city had a $15-million shortfall.

Tuesday’s meeting got off to a rocky start when the council recessed early after it became clear that Zurita had not received a copy of the latest budget revision, which was submitted to the council by City Manager Willie Norfleet at 5 p.m.

The revisions were not made available to the public until midway through the meeting and were not on file with the clerk’s office, angering many of the dozens of residents attending the meeting.

Then Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux introduced a series of resolutions to avoid layoffs that incorporated concessions and an early retirement incentive program proposed by employee unions. The council voted in favor of incorporating the union proposal — which included eliminating layoffs — but voted against a second amendment to postpone all layoffs.

The council also voted in favor of an amendment adopting the golden handshake proposal, which was included in the union plan, but then reversed when Councilwoman Lillie Dobson changed her vote.

The current spending plan calls for cutting about 90 jobs. City officials said the layoffs are the only way to salvage Compton’s finances. But union representatives say the city violated multiple laws in the way it has gone about the process.

“The layoff plan as it exists now is a legal disaster,” Tony Segall, an attorney representing the Coalition of Compton Unions, told the council Tuesday. “If it goes forward, it will be challenged on numerous legal bases.”

City Atty. Craig Cornwell said he had submitted a confidential memo to the council on some of the issues Segall raised but declined to address the question further in public. Some employees whose jobs were targeted are threatening individual lawsuits as well.

abby.sewell@latimes.com


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