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Bell leaders cut pay by 90%, remain in posts

July 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez apologized Monday and said he will step down after completing his term without pay. Under pressure from outraged residents and facing a probe by the California attorney general, the Bell City Council voted Monday night to slash its salaries by 90 percent, and two members said they will not seek re-election when their terms are up. The Bell City Council held a meeting that started at 6 p.m. Monday, a private executive session. One of the things on the agenda was the pay cut issue for four of the five city council members.

During the meeting, the council voted unanimously to set every member's salary at what Councilman Lorenzo Velez is paid, about $8,000 a year. The other four council members have been making about $100,000 a year for their part-time service on the city council.

Before the council meeting Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez announced he won't take any pay for the remainder of his term, and will not seek re-election.

Hernandez apologized Monday for the excessive salaries paid to city officials and said he will step down after completing his term without pay.

Angry residents poured into the council chambers at Monday's meeting. Several unable to get in because of occupancy constraints.

"You were a crook yesterday, you're a crook today and you will be a crook tomorrow," Bell resident Danny Harber told council members.

Hernandez said in a statement posted on the Bell city clerk's website that the salaries were indefensible.

During a contentious city council meeting last week, the city manager, his assistant and the police chief were forced to resign over their high-six-figure salaries.

The administrators could make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in state pensions.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown said he has subpoenaed hundreds of records, including employment contracts, in his investigation of Bell city officials and their exorbitant salaries.

Brown said at a Monday news conference that he's demanding the records within 48 hours. Then he will determine whether to file charges.

Brown said his office and the state public employee pension fund were reviewing salaries in other communities around the state.

About 17 percent of Bell's residents live in poverty.

Sunday, dozens of Bell residents took to the streets, marching to the homes of the city's mayor and three city council members and demanding them to resign or cut their salaries by at least 90 percent.

"I want the council members to resign because they are stealing our money," said one Bell resident.

"I've lived here 35 years and enough is enough," said Bell resident Irene Gonzalez. "We've put up with a lot. It's time for them to go."

The Bell Association to Stop the Abuse (BASTA) threatened to recall the council members if they didn't resign or lower their own salaries.

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.

Bell residents had gathered outside Bell City Hall, preparing to enter the auditorium once the executive session ended Monday night. Security was extremely tight, with a fence erected around the auditorium, allowing only one entrance. Authorities were concerned about the high emotions of outraged residents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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