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Jerry Brown issues subpoenas in Bell salary query

July 26, 2010 |  1:13 pm

Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown knows a political gift when he sees one. In a press conference Monday, Brown said his office has subpoenaed hundreds of records from the city of Bell and its top officials as his office ponders taking civil or criminal action against city leaders, whose salaries have ballooned to unusually high levels.

The investigation also allows Brown to take a tough stand on public salary abuses -- distancing himself from the labor union leaders to which his Republican rival, Meg Whitman, is trying to tie him. And as a bonus, Brown gets a day of media attention while still spending nothing on campaign commercials.

Welcome to the advantages of incumbency.

Count on Brown talking about Bell in the days and weeks to come. He said his office will also review salaries in other cities and counties around the state to determine whether abuses similar to those found in Bell might be occurring elsewhere.

Whitman has tried for weeks to paint Brown as little more than a union pawn -- a charge Brown has worked hard to refute. Her campaign is running ads highlighting Brown’s union support, saying if he’s victorious he’ll be “their governor.” Brown, however, has worked to portray himself as a political renegade who will take on the special interests. Last week, Brown unveiled his plan for pension reform, which includes raising the retirement age for new hires and increasing the amount current workers contribute to their own pension plans. “These outrageous pay practices are an insult to the hard-working people of Bell and have provoked righteous indignation in California and even across the country,” Brown said. “I’m determined to get to the bottom of these exorbitant payouts and protect the state’s pension system against such abuses, and today’s subpoenas are an important step in that process.”

At a press conference in Los Angeles, Brown said his office was dealing in an "uncharted area of the law." He added: "It's uncharted because no one has ever felt they should pay themselves $800,000 or thereabouts," a reference to Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, who was being paid more than $787,000 per year.

 -- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento and Maeve Reston in Los Angeles

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