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COMMENTARY

Tragic litany:

Chronic inept

leadership

A sordid tale of one city

By JARRETTE FELLOWS, JR.Editor-in-chief

Woe unto the City of Woe.

Compton is bewitched, cursed or snake-bitten. Take your pick. You'd be correct in either case. Financial mismanagement and a lack of leadership have hindered Compton's ability to serve the public.

Consider this local newspaper headline from 2011: "COMPTON FIRES THIRD CITY MANAGER IN 5 YEARS!"

The story that followed read thusly: "Willie Norfleet, who had worked for the city for about four years, will be replaced by Lamont Ewell, a Compton native and retired city manager for cities including San Diego and Santa Monica. Amid financial turmoil and changing political tides, the Compton City Council has voted to fire its third city manager in five years.

 

"The council voted 3 to 2 late Tuesday to terminate City Manager Willie Norfleet, effective immediately. Norfleet had worked for the city for about four years and served as city controller until his predecessor, Charles Evans, was fired last fall. Norfleet came under fire over revelations in the spring that the city was running a $25-million deficit in its general fund and over his handling of deep budget cuts."

That was 2011.

 

In the years that followed, similar stories were presented in this media outlet and others, only the names were changed. You may recall some of them — Duffy, Johnson, Evans, Kilroy, Haley, Ewell, Rhambo... .  

Over the course of more than a decade to July 2023, the city continues to play a game of "musical chairs" with its city managers. More than a dozen have been booted out on their derrieres since Black folk took the reigns of political leadership from Whites in 1969 with the election of the city's first Black mayor, Douglas F. Dollarhide. 

James C. Johnson would succeed Dollarhide's triumph by one year, hired by the city as the first Black city manager in 1968, more than 60 years after the council-manager form of government was established and the earliest city managers were appointed.

All was well with Compton. The previous White leadership had handed Black leadership a pristine fiscally-sound

municipality. But then cataclysm happened. Over the course of 30-40 years, Compton slowly, and irrevocably slid into oblivion.

The city has struggled for several years to adequately perform many core functions of city government: Many of its streets are in poor condition, and its water wells and related infrastructure are decaying. For more than a decade, Compton has faced a persistent deficit in its general fund and has failed to produce timely, complete audited financial statements. It has suffered high turnover and ongoing vacancies in key positions for years.

In a 2022 State Audit report, it was determed that Compton's deteriorating infrastructure presents health and safety risks to the public and is emblematic of the city's overall troubles. One reason for its infrastructure's state of disrepair is that the city has not updated its plan for prioritizing and funding infrastructure projects since 2014. Compton's financial mismanagement and problematic budgeting practices have also allowed millions of dollars in certain funds to sit idle while the city could have used them for street repairs and water system improvements.

Why has Compton reaped this whirlwind of failure? The easy answer is a lack of competent leadership the emergence of too many persons elected to office, appointed or hired to critical positions without the requisite qualifications. Layer in corruption, selfish business practices, cronyism, nepotism, and the truth begins to crystallize.

A city manager is given the controls to actually manage a municipality not the mayor or the council, although they figure prominently into the business of the city. That's why it has always been puzzling why the mayor and a majority of the council have the power to remove a city manager for the flimsiest reasons, a whim or simply as retribution.

For 50 years or thereabouts, this B-movie script has played out in Compton, most recently with the termination of Thomas Thomas by a 3-1-1 vote during the regular city council meeting held July 11. Thomas, who was on the job for more than a year was named city manager after a nationwide search was conducted following the departure of Craig Cornwell in mid-2021.

Jerry Groomes, who previously served temporarily as city manager in 2016 after the council fired Roger Haley II, will assume the role of city manager. The city has yet to provide a public statement on whether they will conduct another nationwide search for a permanent city manager. 

Compton's political dereliction of duty can be likened to the hazards of global warming; manmade rendering irre vocable damage. It is a dire shame because Compton's hardworking, taxpaying citizens deserve so much better.

OF MICE AND MEN, MOUSE TRAPS, AND THE LUST OF MONEY

curre2.jpg
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Lapse in Vigilance.

Black politicians: Don't you know you're being watched and monitored audially?

 

What befell Nury Martinez, Jose Huizar, and Mitchell Englander, who aren't Black, should have cautioned you

JARRETTE FELLOWS, JR., Editor-in-Chief

Apparently not. Or perhaps in the era of "Dishonest John" Trump, they concluded "besting the system was as easy as 1-2-3."

 

Hardly the case.

 

Mark Ridley-Thomas has crashed, Dishonest John is spiraling, and Curren Price's main engines are on fire and he's descending.

But this isn't about DJ, it's about the other two—Mark and Curren, two brilliant political leaders straight outta the community with amazing resumes of triumph, who, tragically outsmarted themselves. A lust for money fomented their actions. For Mark the stain left at the bottom of the pot was conspiracy, bribery, mail & wire fraud; and for Curren, embezzlement, perjury, and conflict of interest.

Money was the lure. The lust of it. 

With men as smart as these two bearing years of political moxy, you'd think they would have been keen to the eyes and ears attuned to their every move seeking to devour them. But, like mice to cheese, the green stuff was irresistible and risking the trap's damning "slam" was worth the peril.

In hindsight it wasn't. Never is.

 

Mark languishes in ruin, soon to be remanded to years in prison, and Curren faces the same if the Los Angeles County District Attorney proves his case—and it appears likely he will.

Tragically, the timing could not be worse for the Black and Brown communities they served. With a perverse spirit racing through America, up and down in it, we can ill-afford to lose warriors in what can only be described as a protracted tug-of-war between light and dark, good and evil.

Losing Mark cast a thunderstorm, and now the very real possibility of losing Curren echoes more ominous thunder in the distance.

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