Six Figure Salaries in Tiny SoCal Town Turns Heads

By JONATHAN LLOYD, JOHN ROGERS and OLSEN EBRIGHT
|  Monday, Jul 26, 2010  |  Updated 6:00 PM PDT
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Six Figure Salaries in Tiny SoCal Town Turns Heads

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There is a story out of Southern California that is getting national attention. It involves the six-figure salaries of city employees in the town of Bell where many citizens live in poverty.

On Monday Bell's mayor, Oscar Hernandez, apologized for excessive pay and says he will finish his term without pay and not seek reelection. His term expires March 2011.

Attorney General Jerry Brown's office is also looking into the case. Brown said Monday he has subpoenaed hundreds of records from the city. He demanded to see employment contracts from the city of Bell within 48 hours to determine whether to file criminal charges.

"These outrageous pay practices are an insult to the hard-working people of Bell and have provoked righteous indignation in California and even across the country," Brown said. "I'm determined to get to the bottom of these exorbitant payouts and protect the state's pension system against such abuses, and today's subpoenas are an important step in that process." 

The salaries exploded into public view after a Los Angeles Times investigation, based on California Public Records Act requests, showed the city payroll was bloated with all sorts of six-figure salaries.

Hundreds of residents who were enraged after reading the article.

Here are the numbers:

  • Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo made $787,637 a year, getting a series of raises since being hired in 1993 at $72,000. President Barack Obama makes $400,000.
  • Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia made $376,288 a year.
  • Police Chief Randy Adams earned $457,000, $150,000 more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
  • Mayor Oscar Hernandez and three of the council's four other members make about $100,000 a year, most of it salaries for sitting on various boards and commissions. Only Councilman Lorenzo Velez makes a modest salary of about $8,000 a year.

Hours after last week's emergency meeting, Hernandez released a letter in which he defended the compensation. He also attacked the newspaper that first reported about the sky-high salaries.

"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.

If there is a recall, Saleh said his group would like Velez to stay on the council and work toward reforming local government in the city of 40,000 where one in six live in poverty.

The council salaries were made possible by a little-noticed ballot measure that passed during a special election five years ago.

A state law enacted in 2005 restricted council pay in "general law" cities, but that same year the Bell council authorized a special election with one item on the ballot -- converting Bell to a "charter city." The LA Times reported that the measure's language did not mention the effect the change to charter city would have on council salaries.

The measure passed. Fewer that 400 people voted.

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