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Bell officials cut police pensions, boosted their own

October 1, 2010 |  6:16 pm

As Bell provided record-high pensions for Robert Rizzo and 40 other officials, the city cut the pensions for new police officers, claiming it could no longer afford their full retirement benefits.

Rizzo, the longtime Bell city manager who was charged with public corruption last week, stands to receive an annual pension of an estimated $1 million thanks to a major enhancement the City Council approved beginning in 2003.

But, three years later, the city created a two-tiered pension system for Bell police officers, with officers hired after that year receiving less generous pensions than other police employees. Before the change, Bell police officers were eligible to receive their full pension at age 50, which has traditionally been the model for police officers and firefighters in the state.

They usually receive higher pensions at a younger age in recognition of the danger and physical demands of their jobs. Under Bell’s two-tier system, officers hired after 2006 must work to 55 to receive their full pensions, according to the memorandum of understanding negotiated between the Bell police union and the city.

Bell police officers said they didn’t know that Rizzo and the 40 other officials were receiving a supplemental pension plan on top of their regular pensions until The Times reported it Wednesday.

“We all feel deceived,” said Police Sgt. Albert Rusas, who was a leader of the Bell Police Officers Assn. when the police labor deal was negotiated. “We feel we were treated as less than employees by a man who had nothing but greed running through his veins.”

Others at the Police Department said the revelations are just the latest blow to a city already reeling from the salary scandals that led to criminal charges against eight former and current city officials.

“It’s par for the course,” said Capt. Anthony Miranda, who is not a union member. Officers feel completely betrayed and shocked because they acted in good faith and this guy was lying to us, negotiating in bad faith. We come to find out Rizzo was upping his own ante and lowering ours.”

The enhanced pensions received by the 41 officials -- including many City Council members -- were paid for entirely by Bell tax funds, allowing the city to circumvent retirement limits set by California’s state retirement fund. The changes, which created a supplemental pension plan for those officials, increased the size of their pensions by as much as 85%.

-- Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: Robert Rizzo in court last week.

Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times