kens*ten: a political blog

Bell Gets Mad As Hell: Local Government Run Amok

Angry residents protest in Bell, CA (Liz Baylen/LA Times)

The Los Angeles Times stumbled across the local government story of the decade.  Times reporters were investigating the story of Maywood, California – a town so badly off economically they chose to fire all their city employees and pay contractors to perform minimal city services. 

One of the contractors was the neighboring City of Bell.  In the course of covering this story, the Times discovered that Bell has what may be the highest paid city officials in America… and perhaps, the world! 

Now that’s the motto you’d want on your “welcome to town” sign, huh?

The good citizens of Bell are paying their City Manager an annual salary of… you had better sit down for this… $787, 637.  And, his contract calls for a 12% raise – over $94,000 — in July 2011. 

Sure, that ain’t much in sports terms.  But in the realm of public administration, he’s taking down major league coin. 

Let me put Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo’s wages into relative terms for you.  President Barack Obama’s yearly salary is $400,000 — about half as much.  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is paid $232,425 per year — less than one-third.  California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s annual salary is $173,987, which he refuses, because The Terminator is a gazillionaire. This City Manager is getting paid nearly five times more than the governor of the largest state in the nation!

Bell is no Palm Springs, Malibu or Boca Raton.  Bell is a small city – less than 1,700 acres – of just under 37,000 residents.  According to 2000 Census figures, the median household income in Bell was $40,556, well under California’s statewide median of $61,017.  The population is 90.7% Latino and 53.5% foreign-born.  Only 4% of Bell residents over age 25 possessed a college degree and nearly 65% lacked a high school diploma. 

In other words, Bell would never have been featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” nor host any parties attended by Paris Hilton. Not a put down, just decribing conditions on the ground.

City Manager Rizzo is not the only recipient of government largesse in Bell.  Rizzo’s Assistant City Manager, Angela Spaccia, receives a salary of $376,288.  Police Chief Randy Adams oversees 33 uniformed officers and 13 civilian staff members. Adams receives an annual salary of $457,000.  By contrast, the Los Angeles Police Chief oversees 9,959 uniformed officers and 2,940 civilian staff members.  The LA Chief’s salary is 50% less than Adams at $307,000. 

So, the key question is: Who in the name of Sam Hill approved these astronomical salaries? 

In the California “city manager” system of government, the voters elect a City Council composed of a Mayor and four Councilmen.  The City Council sets policies, passes ordinances, approves the annual budget and hires the City Manager to run day-to-day operations. 

The answer appears to be the Bell City Council.  Moreover, the Times found a wrinkle there too.  California law limits the salaries of mayors and council members based on the city’s population.  A city the size of Bell should be paying these officials $400 per month – and officially, they do.  But, here is where these “public servants” really showed their creativity. 

The Bell City Council approved meeting stipends for members of city commissions.  Each time a commission met, the members received several hundred dollars.  In the past, most of these boards met quarterly.  Local boards are common throughout the nation and deal with subjects like planning, zoning, housing standards, utilities and solid waste collection.  Typically, the City Council selects locally active citizens or volunteers to perform these often-unpaid duties. 

Not in Bell.  The City Council appointed themselves to fill those positions.  And, then started having regular monthly meetings.  According to official records, some of these monthly meetings lasted one minute and qualified for the meeting stipend. 

How much do the Mayor and Councilmen of Bell, California make per year?  The LA Times reports that four of the five Councilmen received over $100,000 last year — for elected positions that are supposed to pay $4,800! 

The District Attorney is investigating the legality of the commission payment scheme; but, acknowledged that there is no law that limits salaries of appointed staff.  The Times also noted that the City Manager, his assistant and the Police Chief are part of the CalPERS retirement plan.  Therefore, the taxpayers of California are on the hook for huge pensions for these folks. 

Nice work, if you can get it – and don’t have a conscience. 

© 2010 by KensTEN. All rights reserved. 



Please note that links change or disappear over time. The link was correct and active at the time of publication. 


California’s Salary Outrage / Fox Business Network 

Peter Finch Gets Mad As Hell / “Network” 


Written by kensten

07/22/2010 at 1:36 am

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