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Bell leaders resign; state investigating

July 23, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Three top city leaders in Bell have resigned, but the controversy over their inflated salaries is far from over, especially now that the state is investigating.The city manager, assistant manager and the chief of police agreed to step down at the end of August after a six-hour closed-door session on Thursday night, but residents are still outraged over the high pensions that they are entitled to receive.

City Manager Robert Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia stand to get millions from their pensions over the years and for the rest of their lives.

Residents packed city hall for the meeting as tempers flared. They booed the city council and chanted, "Recall!"

Rizzo was earning $787,637 annually, which is twice as much as President Barack Obama. Adams was earning $457,000 annually, which is double the pay of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Spaccia was earning $376,288 annually.

Bell is a working-class city of 37,000 people. The town's median income is $40,000 per year, and 17 percent of Bell's residents live in poverty. More than half of the population is immigrant.

Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia will not be getting a severance package, but their pensions have many people fuming.

"I think we should inundate them with lawsuits so that their pension is all gone because they don't deserve the money they have, they really don't," said Angie Gonzalez of Bell.

According to the L.A. Times, Rizzo's pension would be about $650,000 a year.

Residents are still outraged over the council's pay. All but one member are making about $100,000 annually for a part-time job. The issue will be taken up at Monday's meeting.

"Right now, we're asking for the resignation of four out of the five council members. We're asking that they also open a forensic audit by a third party to try to figure out if there's some sort of criminal activity," said Christina Garcia of BASTA, the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse.

Bell resident Nester Valencia is among those who think the remaining four council members should resign, except for Lorenzo Valez who makes $7,000. Valencia said all the council members should give the money back to the city.

The small Bell Police Department has become even smaller during the tenure of Chief Adams. Equipment isn't being replaced. The police union is happy to see the chief go.

"He came here with the expressed purpose of trying to dismantle the police department and treat us unfairly and we don't like that. We don't think that is a good working relationship with a person like that," said Kurt Owens with the Bell Police Officers Association.

Council salaries have risen 50 percent since 2005, when the city council approved a special election with one ballot measure - to convert the city to charter status. It would allow them to avoid state limits on their own salaries.

Only 400 people voted and approved the measure. The ballot language did not mention the impact to council salaries.

Residents plan on protesting at council members' homes on Sunday.

The state attorney general and CalPERS, the state's public employee retirement agency, are now investigating the salaries and pensions for Bell's civic leaders.

Mayor Oscar Hernandez has defended Rizzo and credits him with keeping Bell from going bankrupt.


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