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.
"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