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Bell execs expected to step down or be fired

July 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Their big salaries could cost them their jobs. The Bell City Council plans to ask that city's highest paid executives to resign or be fired.Some Bell city executives are making high six-figure salaries in the small, mostly working-class city. The city manager pulls in about $800,000 per year.

The city council was meeting Thursday afternoon, planning to ask those high-paid execs to resign. There was a noisy protest before the meeting.

People attending the meeting were kicked out of the council chambers so council members could meet in a private executive session.

The public was to be allowed to testify. Residents objected to the private executive session. They became too loud, and the council session was closed to the public.

Inside the council meeting before the public was kicked out, about two dozen people became very loud and upset. They wanted the council meeting done in public.

One council member agreed, but was told by the city attorney that if the meeting were open to the public, discussing personnel matters and reasons for termination could lead to a lawsuit. As a result, the executive session was called.

Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez said he expects resignations to occur Thursday night.

"If we fire somebody, the numbers are high," said Hernandez. "Let me tell you: I'm going to work hard for resignations, not firing anybody, because I want to keep that money for my community."

Protests have been growing as more residents learn about the exorbitant salaries.

Bell is a working-class city of 37,000 people. The town's median income is $40,000 per year, and more than half of the population is immigrant.

L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley is investigating how five council members can be paid $8,000 a month for meeting just two days a month. The D.A.'s investigation is looking at the $100,000 each of the council members, including the mayor, are paid when the state law says it should only be a maximum of $400 a month.

A typical salary for a city manager for a town the size of Bell is around $100,000 per year. Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo earns $787,637 per year.

Recently, Rizzo hired Bell Police Department Chief Randy Adams. Adams, who was retired from the Glendale Police Department, earns $457,000 yearly, approximately double what Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck earns.

Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia makes $376,288. Some city council members make $100,000 in their part-time positions. Mayor Hernandez makes nearly $100,000 per year.

Councilman Luis Artiga, who is also a minister, makes nearly six figures, and insists that nothing is illegal.

"Everything that was on the city, it was legal because it's a charter city, so nobody was committing a crime," said Artiga. "Maybe something was out of the ordinary -- yes, that's true -- but nobody committed a crime."

Artiga agreed that some of the money could be used to help feed lower-income residents.

Some want the chief and the city manager fired, while others just want the salaries bumped down and the wealth spread around.

Rizzo says he's worth it because he bailed the city out of bankruptcy 17 years ago.

If 55-year-old Rizzo steps down, he gets a pension of at least $600,000 a year for life. It would make him the highest paid retiree in the state's CalPERS retirement system.

Christina Garcia is an activist from the city of Bell. She's a leader of the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse (BASTA -- Spanish for "Stop").

"We knew they were inflated. That was nothing new to us," said Garcia. "We just didn't know how egregious these salaries were, and how crazy the situation was."

Garcia said if no one is fired or resigns Thursday night, there's always the recall option. But that does not affect executives and their potential six-figure pensions.

"I expect the resignations tonight," said Mayor Hernandez. "I don't know how many, but like I say, we have to fix something tonight. That's for sure."


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