Outrage and resignations over high salaries in Bell, Calif.

City council members who make nearly $100,000 a year for governing this small, poverty-plagued suburb of Los Angeles must resign immediately or they could face a recall campaign from a community group. (July 23)
By Christopher Palmeri
Sunday, July 25, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- When Roger Ramirez heard in 2008 that the manager of his Southern California town of 38,000 might be the state's highest-paid municipal employee, he asked City Hall. He got only part of the answer.

A city clerk in the town of Bell sent him a one-page memo that gave Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo's annual salary as $185,736 and that of city council members as $8,076.

"I should have asked for other benefits," said Ramirez, an emergency-call operator.

Rizzo resigned Thursday after the Los Angeles Times reported that his total compensation was almost $800,000 a year and that Bell's part-time council members took in almost $100,000 annually, mostly by serving on city-affiliated boards and commissions.

"These outrageous salaries in Bell are shocking and beyond belief," said California Attorney General Jerry Brown, whose office is investigating. "With record deficits and painful budget cuts facing California cities, astronomical local government salaries raise serious questions and demand a thorough investigation."

Bell, 10 miles south of Los Angeles, has a largely Latino population with a per-capita income of $24,800 in 2008. More than a quarter of its residents live below the poverty level. The city has about $150 million in debt outstanding, the annual report says.

The resignation of Rizzo, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia and Police Chief Randy Adams on Thursday came after a six-hour closed session of the council. At least 200 citizens waited in and outside City Hall, clapping for council members to end their private meeting. One wore a T-shirt that read "My City Is More Corrupt Than Your City."

Rizzo was Bell's city manager for 17 years and will receive an estimated pension of $600,000 a year.

"There's no way we can legally affect those," Bell City Attorney Edward Lee said when asked by a resident about the pensions.

After the meeting ended, some attendees chanted "recall" and demanded that the mayor and council resign.

In a statement released Friday, Mayor Oscar Hernandez said: "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."

-- Bloomberg News

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