Bell City Council Slashes Salaries Amid Public Outrage

Attorney general launches investigation into outsize pay for small-town pols.

July 23, 2010 — -- The city council in the small, working-class suburb of Bell, Calif., agreed to slash its outsize salaries Monday, after weeks of public outrage and national attention over its controversial compensation.

Council members, four out of five of whom earned more than $100,000 a year for part-time work, agreed to reduce their salaries by 90 percent.

Angry citizens mobbed city hall and spent more than five hours -- using time allotted for public comments -- to assail the council members. Many of those in attendance demanded that council members not just reduce their salaries but step down.

"I can never, ever, forgive you," Marcelino Ceja shouted at the council. "You need to resign today."

The council members' salaries, however, paled in comparison to that of recently resigned City Manager Robert Rizzo, who earned $787,637 -- nearly twice President Obama's salary -- making him the highest paid municipal employee in the state.

"We ask that you leave and give us our city back," Alfredo Ruvalcaba, 27, told the council. "I am here on behalf of my parents, who couldn't make it here today because they have to work to pay your salaries."

The Los Angeles County prosecutor has suggested that the council could be investigated for inappropriately approving enormous salaries. State Attorney General Jerry Brown said Monday he had subpoenaed hundreds of pages of documents from the council.

Brown said he has given the council two days to produce employment contracts.

The average citizen in Bell, a city of less 40,000 people 14 miles south of Los Angeles, earns about $28,000 a year. According to 2008 census data, 17 percent of the population lives in poverty.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the salaries, sparking community groups to call for the employees' resignation.

Bowing to pressure, Rizzo and two other employees resigned last week.

Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia earned $376,288 a year and will step down in September.Police Chief Randy Adams earned $457,000 -- $150,000 more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck -- and agreed to step down in August.


The newly retired Rizzo will become the highest paid public pensioner in the state, earning about $650,000 a year.

The employees and the council have been mostly silent on the scandal.

Only Adams defended himself during a public council meeting last week, saying, "This is southeast L.A. Some of the former members of this department are in the federal penitentiary right now. They asked me to come in and make an assessment and bring in best practices to this police department, and I have diligently been trying to do that."

Mayor Oscar Hernandez broke his silence Friday. In an open letter, he attacked the Los Angeles Times for reporting the story and stood by Rizzo's salary.

"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.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that the council seized the ability to set pay through a ballot initiative that only 400 people voted on and which made no express mention of salaries.