The city of Bell, Calif., is about 10 miles southeast of Los Angeles, has about 37,000 residents and is one of the poorest localities in Los Angeles County. The median household income in Bell was $39,394 in 2008, compared to more than $61,000 across the state.
Until recently, the biggest news in that largely Hispanic small city was the theft of 55 Oscar statuettes in a 2000 heist that cast a pall over that year’s Academy Awards.
Now, thanks to a recent investigation by The Los Angeles Times, people there are wondering if a much broader pattern of theft is happening in Bell — by its public officials.
- The 17-year-veteran city manager, Robert Rizzo, earns $787,637, and by contract gets 12 percent raises each year. During one year of his tenure he got a 49 percent raise.
- The police chief, Randy Adams, earns $457,000 annually, for managing a department with 46 people in it. That’s about 50 percent more than the salary of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who manages a 13,000-person department in a city of 3.8 million.
- The assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia, earns $376,288. That’s more than the top administrator in Los Angeles County (population 9.8 million).
- And many — but not all — of Bell’s city council members are earning close to $100,000 per year, because they make a lot of side money serving on high-paying city boards and commissions. One council member who resigned last August is still collecting his $96,000 a year because the city created a position for him as assistant director of a local food bank. (Council members in similar sized California cities earn about $4,800 annually.)
Now, reports the LA Times, there is a finger-pointing frenzy going on. The populace is marching on Bell City Hall and they seem out for blood. Caught by the newspaper paying (and collecting) exorbitant salaries, Bell’s council members are considering 20 percent pay cuts for themselves.
And council has directed the city attorney to negotiate the resignations of the Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia — after defending those salaries for nearly a week.
But there is a catch, the newspaper reports:
Resigning would make City Manager Robert Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia eligible for lucrative pensions. But the three also have contracts that protect them from being fired without cause.
As a result, unless they agree to resign, the city would face the prospect of buying out their contracts, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional payments.
This is what Rizzo, the $787,000-a-year city manager, told the Los Angeles Times reporters when they had the temerity to question his paycheck: “If that’s a number people choke on, maybe I’m in the wrong business,” he said. “I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I’ve done.”
His assistant, Spaccia, chimed in: “I would have to argue you get what you pay for.”
What amazing chutzpah.
The Los Angeles County prosecutor is investigating those fat salaries.
You can bet that every beat reporter in California right now is checking the salaries of every public official on his/her beat.
I wonder where the next municipal salary bomb is going to explode in California?