Fired Compton city manager thought change was coming

(The Compton Bulletin) – When he landed in Compton as the city manager, Thomas Thomas had high hopes that he would be able to change the dynamics of a community that has struggled with street fixtures, abandoned buildings, homelessness, and redevelopment.

In a 2022 interview with The Compton Bulletin editor and publisher Dennis J Freeman, Thomas went through a myriad of things that he was eager to take on. His energy was high.

“I know the history of Compton. I grew up in Long Beach. I’ve been in Compton numerous times when I was growing up,” Thomas said. “I’m also very familiar with the potential of Compton. I’ve seen the opportunities here,” Thomas said at that time.

“I see the opportunities going on in communities around us that we can take advantage of just as well. I see the opportunities for economic development, redevelopment, infrastructure, and I don’t see any challenges that we have that are insurmountable. Personally, and professionally, I thought it was a great opportunity for me,” he added.

As enthusiastic as Thomas was about the prospect of changing Compton during that 30-minute interview, something went awry between then and what happened at the Compton City Council meeting on July 11.

That is when council members, during a closed session, decided to vote to remove Thomas from his city manager position. It wasn’t even close. The City Council voted 5-0 to give Thomas the boot.

“As to public employee discipline dismissal release, the city council voted 5-0 to terminate the City Manager Thomas Thomas,” City Attorney Eric Perrodin stated during the regular council meeting.

The firing of Thomas comes on the heels of the City Council approving its budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year on June 28. The city’s approved budget is $251,903,275.

Before taking the city manager’s position in Compton, Thomas had a wealth of experience behind him, including holding jobs working as the city manager for a small town in Alaska (Unalaska).

He held the same position in Rock Island, Illinois, as well. He also worked in Macon, Georgia, as the city’s chief administrative officer. All that experience didn’t amount to a hill of beans for Thomas in keeping his job in Compton. After removing Thomas, the council it had found an interim city manager in Jerry Groomes.

Getting dismissed a little more than a year on the job is not something that Thomas may have envisioned. It’s a far cry from the eagerness he shared in wanting to take on the challenge of trying to turn things around in the city.

“It’s going good so far,” Thomas said. “As I go into my third week here, I’m still learning the organization, still learning the rapport and people who do things, and I’m still developing a relationship with the mayor and [city] council.

“But those are just standard challenges I’ve encountered everywhere I’ve had to work as a manager,” Thomas added. “So, nothing out of the ordinary. Now as time moves on and I begin to learn and figure out the culture here in Compton. Now that takes more time. That’s because most of the time you stumble across those issues when some sort of policy direction has to be chosen or some sort of project comes up.”

In what may have been his downfall, Thomas talked about his goals as they related to infrastructure, development and redevelopment. Thomas says his priority was taking care of the streets in Compton.

“I’m going to start looking at our street assessment,” Thomas said. “In the past, in places I’ve been when I look at a street assessment, I don’t politicize it. I focus on the streets that are the worst and then fair and then good. I focus on the worst streets first. I focus my dollars on that first. Infrastructure-wise, street repairs will definitely be a top priority for me.”

Well, that assessment didn’t really turn out to be the case in looking at the city’s new budget. The engineering department gets a whopping $50 million ($50,609,624), while street maintenance has been allotted a little over $12 million ($12,877,963). Most of that money has been set aside for street lighting ($2,770,394). Potholes and fixing the city’s street problems have been an issue for years.

There are many streets lined with potholes that stretch for miles.

This problem has long been a thorn for many residents who have complained over the years about this issue. Thomas said he would undergo a street assessment to see where he would prioritize the roads that needed to be taken care of immediately.

“I’m going to look at the worst streets first and prioritize from there,” Thomas said. “I have to look at the analytics: good, fair and poor, and try to focus on the poor…that’s what I’m going to have to recommend to the council.”

Just over a year ago, Thomas sounded excited about working for the city.

“I’m very excited,” Thomas remarked. “I see good things and potential. I sit in the city council meetings and I’m doing outreach.”

Thomas said sitting at council meetings would allow him the opportunity to meet and greet residents. If there was a wish list of three items he’d like to make happen for the city, Thomas gave a rundown of what he wanted.

“The top three would definitely be the infrastructure issue,” said Thomas. “The second would be development and redevelopment, and the third is an outlier to all the other issues and trying to find a way to better deal with the public safety issues and how we’re going to address those issues.”

When it comes to development and redevelopment, Thomas is a big fan of mixed-use projects and development. What he wanted to see was that the would city make better use of its allotment of property and available space and turn them into mixed-use developments, which could include a combination of living spaces and retail and commercial usage.

To get those projects off the ground, Thomas admitted he would have to do some serious vetting, like making those proposals to the council, getting community input and feedback as well as using residential and commercial properties as means of revenue.

“One of the things they’ve got to do moving forward is you’ve got to find new revenue sources,” Thomas said.

“I’ve always envisioned using mixed-use. Actually, that would be a perfect balance for this community,” Thomas said. “You want to be able to create more housing that is affordable. You also want to balance it out with potential retail, sales tax, and also making it easily accessible to people…those are the kind of balances I’m trying to find here.”

Dennis J. Freeman Written by:

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