July 22, 2010 — -- Robert Rizzo could attend this evening's closed-door meeting of the Bell City Council and be fired -- and he'd still be lucky.
Rizzo, city manager of Bell, California, a city 14 miles south of Los Angeles with fewer than 40,000 people, is the highest paid municipal employee in California. At more than $770,000 a year, he earns nearly twice the salary of President Obama.
But even if he is forced to resign or is fired, he will become, by far, the highest paid pensioner in the state.
And that's not all that's got the local citizens riled up: Bell Police Chief Randy Adams earns $475,000 and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia earns $375,000.
Revelations that the city council repeatedly approved such hefty salaries in a city where the average citizen earns around $28,000 a year and 2008 census data shows 17 percent of the population lives in poverty has sparked a preliminary investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney and public outrage.
"There is no way to describe these people other than to call them predators," said Ali Saleh, founder of the newly created the community group Bell Association to Stop the Abuse.
"When Rizzo came in, in 1993, he was one of the lowest paid city managers in the state," said Saleh, who owns a fashion company and last year lost an election for city council. "Now he's the highest. It's not hard to understand what happened. He raised utility taxes, raised property taxes to the highest in the area, and pushed through a $70 million bond issue to fix the parks, but we haven't seen any of it."
The district attorney's potential investigation likely would not focus on Rizzo, who received raises of more than 12 percent annually, but on the council itself. Most of the council's members earn $100,000 a year for part-time work. City council members in comparable cities doing similar work typically earn around $4,500.
"We're reviewing the facts to see if we need to launch a formal investigation," said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney.
"Part of what took place is legal," she said. "If the council voted to give [Rizzo] the pay, that's legal. How much the council members are making and how those elected officials got that pay might require investigating."