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Defiant Bell mayor defends city manager's high salary, hours after official resigns


A defiant Bell City Council defended the hefty compensation awarded to City Manager Robert Rizzo and two other officials just hours after the three agreed to resign amid a public outcry.

In the city's first formal statement on the salary issue, Bell released a letter from Mayor Oscar Hernandez in which he praised Rizzo's service to the city and said his nearly $800,000 annual salary was justified.

"Unlike the skewed view of the facts, the Los Angeles Times presented to advance the paper's own agenda, a look at the big picture of city compensation shows that salaries of the City Manager and other top city staff have been in line with similar positions over the period of their tenure," Hernandez said in the letter.

Hernandez did address the outrage generated after The Times revealed the salaries last week, adding: "We recognize that today's economic climate and the financial hardships so many families are suffering put our past compensation decisions in a new light.  To the residents of Bell, we apologize."

As part of the resignations, Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia will not receive severance packages. Rizzo will step down at the end of August and Spaccia will leave at the end of September. Adams also will leave at the end of August after completing an evaluation of the Police Department.

Rizzo earns nearly $800,000 a year, believed to make him the highest-paid city manager in California and possibly the nation. Adams makes $457,000 — 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck — and Spaccia makes $376,288, more than the top administrator for Los Angeles County.

The decision was announced at midnight to a crowd of angry Bell residents that had been waiting anxiously since 4:30 p.m. when the City Council began its meeting. None of the administrators attended the session. The crowd erupted in applause after the announcement but immediately yelled out questions about what would happen to the council members. Four of the five are paid close to $100,000 annually. When residents' questions were not answered, they shouted, "Recall!"

"Definitely letting go of these three top officials is the first step we need to fix the city," said Cristina Garcia, a member of BASTA, or the Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse.

Throughout the evening, several residents complained that the council was taking too long, while others clapped in unison to urge the members to come out.

"This is outrageous," said Marcelino Ceja, who has lived in the city for 17 years. "They have to hurry up. I've got kids to feed."

The emergency meeting followed several days of negotiations between the officials and attorneys for the city to reach deals.The crowd began shouting when Councilman Lorenzo Velez's request to open the meeting to the public was overruled by the city attorney, who said the city would be at legal risk if it discussed personnel matters in public.

-- Ruben Vives at Bell City Hall

Photo: Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez listens as the resignations of the police chief, city manager and assistant city manager are announced after the City Council met behind closed doors for nearly six hours. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (238)

Weren't all these high salaries put into effect when Bell changed to a charter city? And wasn't changing to a charter city on a ballot? And didn't only 4% or so of Bell residents vote in that election? So who's really to blame?

Same in L.A. when mayor tony ran for re-election. He didn't bother to advertise, so next no one showed up to vote, and he won.

If you don't vote, you pay the consequences. We are all suffering now.

EVERYONE in BELL needs to go!!!!! ASAP!!

Bell has a surplus of cash because Rizzo secured federal grants, so they were robbing the federal govt of our tax $$ for this scheme, jail time for all involved, revoke pensions for these theives and slash all existing govt pensions over 100K , otherwise we will never recover the economy

thank god the good people in Bell had the courage to stand up against these crooks, now we need to do this on the national level, end overpriced government

This is making news all around the country. I'm in San Francisco and reading about it.

Mr. Hernandez - If anything is "skewed", it would be the rationale used in the outrageous justification of compensation for the executive management team. Mr. Hernandez and the City Council, while desperately seeking to deflect criticism, still do not understand that their decisions were not merely morally and ethically bankrupt, but even more importantly ill advised. The fact that the official response letter indicating that Rizzo's compensation package was justifiably warranted proves that the City Council has spun themselves into an alternate reality rendering them completely unable to lead the Bell community into the future. NOW IS THE TIME FOR RESIDENTS OF BELL TO TAKE BACK THEIR COMMUNITY! RECALL NOW!

Anyone who defends the 800K salary is in on this scam. That includes the mayor.

I hope one of the news stations digs deep on this. They will uncover a lot of dirt on this one.

Just for the record Rizzo is not Latino!

It would also be in the best interest of the City of Bell if every Council member who voted to approve Mr. Rattzo's salary also resign. They disgrace themselves and they disgrace their community by allowing these individuals to STEAL from the community they are suppose to serve. The fact that the mayor still see's fit to defend the City Manager is already grounds for his own resignation. But I guess 800K a year doesn't seem so bad considering the council and mayor of Bell make 100K for part-time work. Their a bunch of disgusting thieves the whole lot of them.

As KC pointed out "what about the pensions"?

There seems to be no mention in the article about whether or not the three burreaucrats will receive their enormous pensions.

Sounds like Mexico style politics.

In 2007 the California Supreme Court ruled that public employee salaries are public information. Anyone in Bell could have found out what they were paying their elected officials at any time. The excuse that Bell residents are too hard at work to find this information--to even vote-- is absurd. A lot of people work hard but do not allow themselves to be swindled. We get the kind of government we deserve.

Its graft and corruption nothing more, the three people who over paid themselves quitely for quite some time without oversight makes a mockery of both California and the Nation.

This act began with a vote to become a charter city in 2005. 339 people voted, of which 239 were absentee. This is where the digging for information needs to begin if we want to now if all of this was legal. Who were the 239 absentee votes? Were they certified? And only 40 voted against the charter. That is less than 1% of the population. Do the math. Of 110 real votes, 40 against, that leaves 60 real people. Does that mean there are 60 people that are really benefitting from all of this corruption?

UC president yudof makes more at $840,000...and there are plenty more in california over $300,000-500,000

This Hernandez crook can't even show up, as Mayor, to a City Council meeting dressed professionally. He is charging the City $800K a year and all he can manage to wear is a Hawaiian shirt while on the job? What a pig.

The severance pay is nothing. These guys are going to get a pension for more than $600 thousand dollars a year until they die. These crooks can steal more than $20 million dollars from California for doing nothing.

BTW - recall or not, the pensions of almost the same amount of money will be paid to these guys unless the Attorney General or someone establishes fraud or other improper conduct that resulted in these ridiculous salaries and pensions. Recall is not the solution, it is a first step.

This is the world we are handing our children.
~Justice needed. We the people need to push to get this in the court......make this the example that all need to see justice. Attn. Gen'l Jerry Brown is looking into this....we need to watch what happens & not let these "politicals " retire & drop from the radar.

2nd issue: is we the people need to watch our city employees closer.....take out your cell phones when you see city employees sleeping on the job....its everywhere....so record it...and send to the news media.....this could be a fun thing to watch.

And this criminal should be fired and prosecuted as well! Lets see which pays more... President of the United States of America or a dirt bag counsel member from the small struggling town of Bell California...

President of the United States = $ 400,000.00/yr
Vice President Of the United States = $ 221,100.00/yr

Total = $621,100.00/yr

City official/dirt bag criminal from Bell Ca = $800,00.00/yr

It's official the Mayor of Bell CA is an accessory to a crime and should be immediate removed and prosecuted!

And everyone is still wondering what is wrong with this country!!! open your eyes people!!!!!

Or maybe embezzlement now legal in this country and the new American way!

My question is why does it show this vacationing tourist or is this really the scumbag and it's just that all his Armani suits are at the cleaners!

$100,000 is pretty much your basic cops and fireman salary throughout the state...and from there it goes up skyward

I can't believe this went on as long as it did. These guys are also going to get a pension - that needs to be challenged legally right away.

He's insane.

I'm willing to entertain the possibility that Oscar Hernandez is not corrupt, he's simply that ignorant. And like so many ignorant people - no different from those passionate Tea Baggers, all the way through to conspiracy theorists - they have every confidence that the very little they know, the heavily filtered and spoon-fed "knowledge" they do possess, is all they need.

The council members who are busy arguing their $100k salaries are justified by the late-night calls, the public appearances, the demands on their time need to talk to the council members of ANY of the hundreds of other charter cities in CA. who are also technically part-time officials, and they are paid anything from $400 per month, to a high-end of about $40k per year. They ALL have the same obligations and demands. that's why it's called "public service."

Ignorance seems to flourish in Bell, and former City Manager Rizzo and soon-to-be-former Police Chief Adams are simply the latest Johnny Appleseeds of ignorance. And like most of those who promote and assist and revel in the ignorance of others, they do it to enrich themselves.

By the way - it's NOT just the 336 voters who favored the city's shift to chartered city status who are responsible for the financial rape of Bell. Also well-deserving of blame are the ten thousand or more citizens qualified to vote who never did vote - the ones who didn't bother even pretending to learn about the alternatives and exerting the effort to so much as obtain a ballot they could simply mail in, to say nothing of finding an hour ONE DAY every 2-4 years to actually drag their butts into a voting booth.

Don't let the non-voters off the hook. They're every bit as responsible as the ignorant fools who don't mind being spoon-fed tripe.

Recall the Mayor. Obviously the problems started with him. If Bell keeps him, the problems will continue.

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