Colton Cashiers Compton

COLTON (August 22)–After  more than two months of mystery, uncomfortable and contradictory revelations and further uncertainty, the Colton City Council last night fired city manager Stephen Compton, citing no cause.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               After repeatedly meeting in closed sessions in April, May and finally on June 3 to discuss and evaluate Compton’s performance, the Colton City Council made no indication of its determination with regard to the city manager’s continuing tenure  publicly. But toward the close of the business day on June 5, Compton was confronted in his office and told he was being put on administrative leave and was then ignominiously escorted out of City Hall by a plainclothes policeman.
The city council promoted police chief Steve Ward to acting city manager during Compton’s absence and initially remained mum on the reason for Compton’s suspension. Persistent citizen and press inquiries as to what was behind the move, however, prompted councilman Frank Gonzales to offer a somewhat cryptic explanation that Compton, whose assignment was to convey policy as dictated by the city council to city staff and officially oversee the function of the city’s various department heads of ensure that policy is being carried out, had overstepped his authority and was “micromanaging” the public works department.
Obliquely, the city council indicated that Compton had gone beyond authority as city manager  to spend up to  $25,000 without prior council. The city hired Kathy M. Gandara, an Ontario-based labor law attorney, to look into the matter.
While Compton continued to twist in the wind, revelations about mismanagement in the public works department began to surface when residents, puzzled by exactly what was going on behind the scenes at City Hall, used the California Public Records Act and other means to unearth documents and materials that showed $2.8 million had been diverted from the city’s general fund to pay for capital projects without the funding shift having been voted upon by the city council, that the city had neglected to collect  $2.8 million in water service charges, also known as fireflow charges, from commercial businesses in the city between 2009 and 2012,  that the city had overspent as much as $4.8 million  on capital improvements projects and had squandered somewhere in the neighborhood of  $265,000 over a period of fourteen years because of a failure to replace, repair or update its information processing systems. It also became know that Compton had been focusing on off-the-book projects carried out by the public works department at the behest of public works director Amer Jakher, some of which appeared to be what critics referred to as “gifts of public funds,” involving unauthorized work done that personally benefited members of the city council, including documented examples that benefited councilman Gonzales and councilwoman Susan Oliva.
As this scandal brewed, the filing period for the upcoming November city council race opened and then closed. Oliva decided against running for reelection. Gonzales, however, doubled down, throwing his hat in the ring for the mayoralty, which was left open by Sarah Zamora’s decision to not run.
With this highly charged political backdrop, the sharp differences on the city council were thrown into stark relief. Gonzales, Zamora and Oliva appeared intent on seeing Compton, who was hired as interim city manager in March 2013 and elevated to full city manager in October, sent packing. They had initially been joined by councilman Isaac Suchil, who publicly questioned many of Compton’s expenditures relating to the audit and investigation of the public works department. That faction gained some traction when on August 4 Gandara gave the city council an oral briefing of her findings, which showed that Compton had expended some $23,000 more than his $25,000 independent expenditure limit, and that he had made temporary employee hirings that were outside the city’s protocol
The council’s three other members, Frank Navarro, David Toro and Deirdre Bennett appeared to be unconvinced or at best skeptical about the reason and justification their colleagues’ rationale for jettisoning Compton.
With the progression of revelations about the questionable operation of the public works department and the growing perception in the community that Compton may indeed have had good reason for looking into Jakher’s management thereof, Suchil gave indication that he was wavering with regard to the resolve to fire Compton. A law enforcement professional employed by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Suchil displayed a reluctance to hammer Compton for carrying out what might, in the end, be revealed as due diligence in getting to the bottom of profligate and perhaps even illegal spending of taxpayer money.
Indeed, from late July until earlier this month, it seemed possible that Compton might be vindicated and returned to his post as city manager after Ward, in one of his last acts as acting city manager, tasked the city attorney to undertake an investigation of the public works department based upon citizen complaints about off-the-books projects and overspending and other questionable activity therein that paralleled the ground Compton was covering in the audits and  investigation he had initiated. In his letter of resignation dated July 21 in which he informed the city council that he was anxious to get back to running the police department, Ward pointedly told the council, “there are directors, managers and council members that do not belong in our organization. I am not used to the childish, selfish, lie to my face drama and games I’ve witnessed… and it never stops!”
This week, however, the pendulum that had seemed to be swinging in Compton’s favor abruptly changed directions when the council on Tuesday voted unanimously to terminate him without citing cause. What was not publicly disclosed was what level of confidential discussion had taken place between Compton and/or his representatives and the council and/or its representatives. It is known that Compton had retained legal counsel.
Under the terms of his contract, had city council cited cause in firing him, it would have needed to provide Compton with any severance pay or consideration. However the contract did cover a circumstance in which he was terminated without cause, in which case he was to be due four month’s salary. Unknown is whether a separation agreement going beyond those terms was worked out. It appeared, because the vote was unanimous, that the council had been allayed over any concern that Compton might take legal action contesting his firing. Nevertheless, that issue was not specifically dealt with by the council.  Yesterday, Thursday August 21, the council met in a special session to finalize its action in terminating Compton and approving the terms of his exodus.  “The city council has concluded that it is in the city’s best interest to pursue a different direction with a new city manager,” Mayor Sarah Zamora said in reading from a prepared statement.
At press time, those terms were not available.
The council, by its August 21 action, has put the ball in Compton’s court. He appears to have three options. He can accept the terms of severance offered by the city council, which is very likely to adhere to its contractual obligation to provide him with four month’s severance pay. His second option would be to attempt to negotiate a more generous severance package. His third option would be to initiate legal action against the city.
Repeated efforts by the Sentinel to reach Compton were unsuccessful.

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