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The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Old 07-21-10, 04:53 PM
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The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

This is the current hot topic (other than immigration) near Los Angeles, basically, the city manager gets 800,000 (and 12% yearly raises), the police chief 500,000, and the (part time) city council members around 100,000 each (these are the guys who approved the contracts). The population of the city is around 37,000, and the median income is below 40,000 (http://www.city-data.com/city/Bell-California.html). Surprisingly, the city's financial situation seems to be fine, though there are complaints about cost cutting in recent years. And I give the guy credit, he did turn the city around.

The city is primarily Latino and half foreign born, which I only bolded because the suspicion is that most of the population did not get involved in government affairs and city council meetings because of language barriers and legal status.

The real problem is going to be the pensions... the Calpers is going to be on the hook for paying these guys for the rest of their lives after retirement based on their highest salaries.



http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la...,3475382.story

Is a city manager worth $800,000?
Bell isn't a big town, or a wealthy one. But some of its top officials are paid double or triple the salaries of their counterparts elsewhere.

By Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives, Los Angeles Times

July 15, 2010
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Bell, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, pays its top officials some of the highest salaries in the nation, including nearly $800,000 annually for its city manager, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

In addition to the $787,637 salary of Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo, Bell pays Police Chief Randy Adams $457,000 a year, about 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck or Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and more than double New York City's police commissioner. Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia makes $376,288 annually, more than most city managers.

Top officials have routinely received hefty annual raises in recent years. Rizzo's contract calls for 12% raises each July, the same as his top deputy, according to documents obtained under the California Public Records Act.

Rizzo, who has run Bell's day-to-day civic affairs since 1993, was unapologetic about his salary.

"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."

Spaccia agreed, adding: "I would have to argue you get what you pay for."

Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez defended the salaries. "Our city is one of the best in the area. That is the result of the city manager. It's not because I say it. It's because my community says it."

Hernandez and other council members said the city was near bankruptcy when Rizzo came aboard 17 years ago. Since then, they said, he has put Bell on sound financial footing, with its general fund nearly tripling to about $15 million.

"Our streets are cleaner, we have lovely parks, better lighting throughout the area, our community is better," Hernandez said. "These things just don't happen, they happen because he had a vision and made it happen."

Bell made headlines in recent weeks when the city of 37,000 agreed to take over operations of the neighboring city of Maywood, which fired most of its employees and disbanded its police department when it could not obtain insurance.

Located about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, Bell has a population that is about 90% Latino and 53% foreign-born. Its per capita income is about half that for the U.S.

Experts in city government said they were amazed at the salaries the city pays, particularly Rizzo's. "I have not heard anything close to that number in terms of compensation or salary," said Dave Mora, West Coast regional director of the International City/County Management Assn., and a retired city manager.

By comparison, Manhattan Beach, a far wealthier city with about 7,000 fewer people, paid its most recent city manager $257,484 a year. The city manager of Long Beach, with a population close to 500,000, earns $235,000 annually. Los Angeles County Chief Executive William T Fujioka makes $338,458.

The salaries do not appear to violate any laws, said Dave Demerjian, head of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Public Integrity Division. State law governs how much city council members can be paid, but not the amounts that council members decide to pay administrators, Demerjian said.

The district attorney is investigating Bell over the hefty compensation of its City Council members about $100,000 a year for part-time positions. Normally, council members in a city the size of Bell would be paid about $400 a month, Demerjian said.

The council has increased its compensation by paying members for serving on a variety of city agencies, including the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Community Housing Authority, the Planning Commission, the Public Financing Authority, the Surplus Property Authority and the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority.

Demerjian said city records show each council member receives $7,873.25 per month for sitting on those boards

Records indicate that the boards of those agencies perform little work and that board meetings take place during council meetings, though the names of some of the agencies seldom appear.

In some years, the council would hold separate meetings for those agencies, and they would sometimes last no more than a minute. On July 31, 2006, four agencies each met for one minute. On March 3, 2008, the redevelopment agency meeting was called to order at 7:21 p.m. and adjourned at 7:22 p.m.

Councilman Luis Artiga, who was appointed to the council 15 months ago to fill an unexpired term, said he had no idea how much he would be paid. When he received his first check, he thought it was "a miracle from God."

Artiga, who is pastor of Bell Community Church, said he uses about half his salary to pay the church's mortgage.

Rizzo received his bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's in public administration from Cal State East Bay.

Council members hired Rizzo in 1993 from the High Desert city of Hesperia as interim chief administrative officer with a starting salary of $72,000 a year. By September 2004, he was being paid $300,000 a year. Ten months later, his salary jumped 47% to $442,000.

His salary continued climbing $52,000 a year until July 1, 2008, when Rizzo received his usual salary increase and signed an addendum to his contract that gave him a 5% raise in September and guaranteed 12% increases each July.


His last raise was $84,389.76. Next July, he will receive a $94,516 pay hike.

Rizzo defended his salary and that of his staff and the council by saying they don't receive car or cellphone allowances and must pay their own way to out-of-town conferences.


However, according to their contracts, Rizzo, Spaccia and Adams can be reimbursed for their expenses. Bell council members are also eligible for reimbursements as board members of several city commissions, according to city resolutions.

Adams, who said he spent $6,000 of his own money to buy furniture for his office, was hired after retiring as the police chief in Glendale. His salary of $215,304 more than doubled when he took the job in Bell.

Spaccia was hired July 1, 2003, at $102,310. A year later, she was making $130,000. She currently earns $376,203 and gets the same 12% annual increases as Rizzo.

Spaccia has been on leave since February while serving as acting city manager for Bell's troubled neighbor Maywood, with her salary being paid by Bell's taxpayers.

"We have a neighbor in trouble," said Rizzo, a short heavy-set man with reddish-brown hair. "If your neighbor's yard is messed up, it brings down your property values. Is it a unique situation? Definitely."

On top of his salary, Rizzo recently received an added boost the council voted to give him an extra week's vacation. He now gets five weeks.
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Old 07-21-10, 05:00 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

With all the press of late, this Hey Day should be coming to a close shortly.
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Old 07-21-10, 05:23 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

That's nothing. I hear community organizers make millions!
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Old 07-21-10, 05:29 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Originally Posted by Thor Simpson View Post
With all the press of late, this Hey Day should be coming to a close shortly.
We'll see. The council members are looking for the resignation of the city manager, the assistant city manager, and the police chief. But they can't really fire them without cause, they can't really get the money back, and I don't think they can touch the pensions. And the city council members say they "might" look at lowering their own compensation.

I do feel a little for the police chief... he left his Glendale position for a position that offered twice as much, I'm not sure anyone is going to turn that down. I'm sure the money will help while he finds another job, though.
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Old 07-21-10, 05:39 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Maybe they should see if they can lure away the CEO of Ben & Jerry's to serve as their City Manager.
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Old 07-21-10, 06:55 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

You'd almost have to be from LA to understand how absurd this is. Bell is a remote city East of downtown LA that is usually passed by unnoticed by people driving by on the 710 freeway.

Makes me wonder what the City Manager of nearby Vernon makes.
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Old 07-21-10, 06:58 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

If you had just said city of Bell (one I've never heard of), I could have guessed that it was in CA in one try.
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Old 07-21-10, 07:01 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Bell is one of those insignificant towns that border Los Angeles. It really makes me wonder where all that money comes from - it's a low income area.
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Old 07-21-10, 11:00 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Sounds to me like the guy did a hell of a job.
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Old 07-21-10, 11:34 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

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Old 07-22-10, 09:21 AM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

I blame Bush.
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Old 07-22-10, 12:57 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

The only thing that makes me hesitate from dismissing this guy as a shyster bilking the public coffers and laughing all the way to the bank is the neighboring city of Maywood. We had a thread on Maywood last week, it's the city that went bankrupt and laid off every city employee and is using outside vendors to do everything from police to trash collection. Maywood and Bell are two peas in a Mexican pod. Their demographics are almost identical, yet one is bankrupt and had to lay off many people, the other spent an outrageous amount on city official sallaries, but they are a solvent stable community. Maybe you have to spend money to make money in this case.

One issue that should be looked at is that (I think) gambling is legal in Bell. At least certain kinds of table games and poker. This could be the source of revenue that these guys are exploiting. Need I point out the guy's name is Rizo?
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Old 07-22-10, 01:24 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Originally Posted by Mabuse View Post
One issue that should be looked at is that (I think) gambling is legal in Bell. At least certain kinds of table games and poker. This could be the source of revenue that these guys are exploiting. Need I point out the guy's name is Rizo?
I'm reasonably certain they have slots - at least.
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Old 07-22-10, 01:25 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Originally Posted by Mabuse View Post
The only thing that makes me hesitate from dismissing this guy as a shyster bilking the public coffers and laughing all the way to the bank is the neighboring city of Maywood. We had a thread on Maywood last week, it's the city that went bankrupt and laid off every city employee and is using outside vendors to do everything from police to trash collection. Maywood and Bell are two peas in a Mexican pod. Their demographics are almost identical, yet one is bankrupt and had to lay off many people, the other spent an outrageous amount on city official sallaries, but they are a solvent stable community. Maybe you have to spend money to make money in this case.

One issue that should be looked at is that (I think) gambling is legal in Bell. At least certain kinds of table games and poker. This could be the source of revenue that these guys are exploiting. Need I point out the guy's name is Rizo?
And who's supplying the police force, etc. for Maywood? Bell is. I think that's partly why the Times started the investigation, because of the publicity from them taking over for Bell. It also seems like there was a lot of incompetence (and maybe some corruption) in Maywood, since one of the primary reasons they started outsourcing was because they could get insurance for the police due to the numerous lawsuits against them. So they declared themselves a sanctuary city.

The general fund tripled to 15 million, but Rizzo by himself will take almost a million a year after a couple more raises. But that's an interesting question, is the money coming from gambling, and if so what other seediness is there? (btw, I don't think they have slots, unless there's an Indian reservation there, and wouldn't that be separate from the city anyway? I don't think you can have slots in CA outside of that)

And I still say the worst part is that he'll get his pension if he resigns. The current estimate is something like 670,000 a year for the rest of his life, and he can still get another job. While that's no longer Bell's problem at that point, with the current state of the pension program, the entire state gets to foot the bill for however much the pension system is underfunded. And we all know CA is flush with cash, so no need to raise taxes or cut services to pay this out...

Last edited by fujishig; 07-22-10 at 01:28 PM.
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Old 07-22-10, 04:30 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Originally Posted by fujishig View Post
And I still say the worst part is that he'll get his pension if he resigns. The current estimate is something like 670,000 a year for the rest of his life, and he can still get another job. While that's no longer Bell's problem at that point, with the current state of the pension program, the entire state gets to foot the bill for however much the pension system is underfunded. And we all know CA is flush with cash, so no need to raise taxes or cut services to pay this out...
I think that is so awesome. What kind of stupid system even allows that? I also think it is hilarious that the city manager thinks that he can just go to the private sector and make that much.
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Old 07-23-10, 12:40 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Originally Posted by fujishig View Post
The city is primarily Latino and half foreign born, which I only bolded because the suspicion is that most of the population did not get involved in government affairs and city council meetings because of language barriers and legal status.
To hammer this point home, there's an article in the LA Times (which has actually done a great job covering this); the election which indirectly allowed the city council to get away with the salary increases was a special election where less than 400 votes came in:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lano...-salaries.html

excerpt:
Council members in Bell earn nearly $100,000 – a salary that has prompted an inquiry by the Los Angeles County district attorney. A state law enacted in 2005 limits the pay of council members in “general law” cities, a reform prompted by the high salaries that leaders in the neighboring city of South Gate bestowed on themselves.

But the year the law passed, the Bell City Council held a special election with only one item on the ballot. It asked voters to approve a measure calling for Bell to convert to a “charter” city.


The move was billed as one that would give the city more local control, and there was no mention that it exempted Bell from the salary regulations. All five council members signed the ballot statement in favor of Measure A.

There was no mention of salaries, and no one filed an argument against the measure, according to documents obtained by The Times. The measure passed, 86% to 14%, with 336 people voting for it and 54 against. The majority of the ballots, 239, were absentee votes.
The police chief, city planner, and assistant city planner were forced to resign, but the mayor and city council still defend the salaries:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lano...l-resigns.html

excerpt:

"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.
So at least they're not feigning ignorance, considering that they're the ones who approved this. I'd like to see the similar positions with similar salaries and guaranteed 12% raises, so we can weed those crooks out as well.

Last edited by fujishig; 07-23-10 at 12:43 PM.
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Old 07-26-10, 07:49 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

The Mayor just said he'll finish out the term without pay.
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Old 07-27-10, 09:01 AM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

I am surprised we haven't seen a flurry of stories about everyone receiving death threats.
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Old 07-27-10, 02:35 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Originally Posted by kvrdave View Post
Sounds to me like the guy did a hell of a job.
I'm sure the people of Bell actually share that sentiment. I mean, they don't seem to have a problem with allowing their city officials take home huge paychecks.
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Old 07-27-10, 03:58 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Given the fact that the people overwhelmingly voted to allow these kind of raises, it seems the only non stupids in this town were the elected officials.
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Old 07-27-10, 04:01 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

I don't understand why people get so upset when a guy is just trying to make a living.
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Old 07-27-10, 04:10 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Bernie seems to be very popular in prison.
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Old 07-28-10, 02:57 AM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

Originally Posted by VinVega View Post
Given the fact that the people overwhelmingly voted to allow these kind of raises, it seems the only non stupids in this town were the elected officials.
A strange reversal from the normal trend.
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Old 07-30-10, 10:18 AM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

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Old 07-30-10, 01:34 PM
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Re: The City of Bell, CA, where a city manager can make 800K

I really don't understand how the California State Workers Pension program works. First of all, shouldn't there be some kind of cap on pensions? Seems ridiculous that this guy is going to collect 600,000+ per year on a pension. At a certain salary, can't they be responsible for some of their own retirement?

Second, the police chief, who has been there for one year, got his pension upped to 400 grand, and for some reason this increases the amount that the cities where he used to work have to put into his pension? One, why is the pension based on the highest salary instead of some kind of average? I always hear that in the last few years before retirement, a lot of city workers put in a ton of overtime to get their pension up, which seems insane. Two, why should the previous cities be on the hook if some other city decides to offer him some ridiculous salary?
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