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Bell Mayor Defends (Resigning) Officials

[Please scroll down for an update to this story.]

Some actual investigative reporting from the Los Angeles Times:

Bell council used little-noticed ballot measure to skirt state salary limits

By Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times

July 23, 2010

The highly paid members of the Bell City Council were able to exempt themselves from state salary limits by placing a city charter on the ballot in a little-noticed special election that attracted fewer than 400 voters.

Since passage of the measure, salaries for council members — part-time employees — have jumped more than 50%, from $61,992 a year to at least $96,996. The Los Angeles County district attorney has opened an inquiry into whether the salaries are lawful.

A state law enacted in 2005 limits the pay of council members in "general law" cities, a category that includes most cities in Southern California. That law was passed in reaction to the high salaries that leaders in South Gate had bestowed on themselves earlier in the decade.

But the year that law passed, the Bell City Council authorized a special election with only one item on the ballot — a measure calling for Bell to convert to a "charter" city. The move was billed as one that would give the city more local control. The ballot language included no mention of the effect the change would have on council members’ salaries.

All five council members signed the ballot statement in favor of Measure A. It also was backed by City Manager Robert Rizzo, according to a council member in office at the time. Rizzo "sold the idea to me," former Councilman Victor Bello said. Council members subsequently signed off on contracts that have boosted Rizzo’s pay to $787,637 annually, making him probably the highest paid city manager in the country. No one filed an argument against the measure, according to documents obtained by The Times.

Rizzo has not returned calls to his cellphone or messages.

The salaries paid by Bell have prompted growing scrutiny after The Times last week revealed that top city administrators were receiving high compensation. In addition to Rizzo, the assistant city manager and the police chief both earn far more than their counterparts in most other cities.

As the article notes, Mr. Rizzo currently earns $787,637 a year. Bell Police Chief Randy Adams earns $475,000. And Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia earns $375,000.

ABC News is reporting that if Mr. Rizzo should be forced to resign he would become the most well-paid pensioner in California, earning as much as $$884,000 in retirement. The current highest-paid pensioner in the state makes just more than $500,000.

Over time, Rizzo could more than $30 million in pension.

The charter measure passed, 336 to 54, with the votes in favor amounting to less than 1% of the city’s population of roughly 40,000. The majority of the ballots, 239, were absentee votes. The special election cost Bell $40,000 to $60,000, city officials said.

Some council members insisted that the ballot measure was not motivated by a desire to increase salaries — but did not cite any other ways the charter changed how Bell did business.

"The idea of a charter is it gives a city flexibility, it gives us independence," said then-Mayor and current Councilman George Mirabal. "It enabled us to create our own vision for the future. That was the way I look at it then and now."

The Bell politicians were looking out for their future, all right.

Former Councilman Bello said "the way I understood it, we would have better control of governing ourselves. We were told we would make a little more money, but I didn’t know we were going to get that much money."

Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), who wrote the state law limiting council members’ pay, said he did so because

Records show that Bello, who resigned from the council last year, has continued to be paid for sitting on four city boards. According to resolutions the council approved in June 2008, commissioners must be council members

of the surreptitious pay raises he had seen in his city.

State law sets the limit on council pay for a city with Bell’s population at $400 a month and limits the amount of money council members can receive for sitting on boards and commissions to $150 a month for each board

But the City Charter bypasses the limits that state law would impose on pay for boards and commissions. Bell council members receive the bulk of their salaries as payments for sitting on the Planning Commission, the Surplus Property Authority, the Public Finance Authority, and the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, at least $7,873.25 monthly. [Or at least $94,479 yearly.]

City minutes indicate that those boards do little work. Board meetings in Bell are supposed to take place during council meetings, although their names seldom appear in council minutes.

When the boards held separate meetings, they sometimes lasted a minute

De La Torre estimated that if Bell were not a charter city, its council members would be paid $10,000 to $12,000 a year

So these Bell councilmen snuck in a law that allowed them to be paid almost ten times more money than they should — and for doing nothing.

Who are we to judge?


An update from the Los Angeles Times:

Defiant Bell mayor defends city manager’s high salary, hours after official resigns

Ruben Vives

July 23, 2010

A defiant Bell City Council defended the hefty compensation awarded to City Manager Robert Rizzo and two other officials just hours after the three agreed to resign amid a public outcry.

In the city’s first formal statement on the salary issue, Bell released a letter from Mayor Oscar Hernandez in which he praised Rizzo’s service to the city and said his nearly $800,000 annual salary was justified.

"Unlike the skewed view of the facts, the Los Angeles Times presented to advance the paper’s own agenda, a look at the big picture of city compensation shows that salaries of the City Manager and other top city staff have been in line with similar positions over the period of their tenure," Hernandez said in the letter.

As the LA Times had previously observed, Mr. Rizzo was making twice as much as our esteemed President.

Hernandez did address the outrage generated after The Times revealed the salaries last week, adding: "We recognize that today’s economic climate and the financial hardships so many families are suffering put our past compensation decisions in a new light.  To the residents of Bell, we apologize."

As part of the resignations, Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia will not receive severance packages.

Gosh, that is rough. Of course he will still enjoy his hefty retirement package, which includes, as we noted previously, could earn him $884,000 in retirement. The current highest-paid pensioner in the state makes just more than $500,000. Over time, Rizzo could more than $30 million in pension.

Rizzo will step down at the end of August and Spaccia will leave at the end of September. Adams also will leave at the end of August after completing an evaluation of the Police Department

These corruptocrats are smart to bail out now, before the citizenry find a way to revoke their ‘golden parachutes.’

By the way, we have yet to see any mention of the political affiliation of these heroes. Why is that?

(Hint: they are all Democrats.)

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, July 23rd, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

6 Responses to “Bell Mayor Defends (Resigning) Officials”

  1. RightWinger says:

    Sounds like Rizzo took a playbook out of the Democrats playbook, “How to get over on the American Taxpayer” with sneaky voting. I guess the 400 voters who actually knew about it were probably Union members who were encouraged to vote on the sly.

    Speaking of Democrats, I’m assuming that must be Rizzo’s party affiliation since it was left out of the story and of course the nature in the way he went about cheating the city.

  2. proreason says:

    I’m really surpised to not see the political party of the hard working city officials mentioned.

    Why would that be?

  3. tranquil.night says:

    Just for a point of reference, 10 years ago we commonly understood that this was generally how cities across the border were governed. Across the border where chaos ensues now.

  4. fallingpianos says:

    Where’s the pay czar when you really need him?

  5. U NO HOO says:

    Our zoning hearing board members get $18 for each case they hear. Some months there are no cases and some nights the meeting lasts three hours for one case. And they pay taxes on that money. It is income, not expenses.

  6. Papa Louie says:

    “(Hint: they are all Democrats.)”

    Inconceivable! Democrats would never seek to become part of the evil upper class at the expense of their neighbors? I’m sure they were giving all their excess salary away to local charities to spread the wealth. I bet they even leaked their salaries to the L.A. Times, themselves, because they realized that “at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” /SARC

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