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If forced out, Bell city manager would be highest-paid retiree in state's pension system

July 21, 2010 | 11:41 am

He may have become reviled in working-class Bell for his nearly $800,000-a-year salary, but Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo could have the last laugh.

Should he be forced from his job, he would immediately gain a new title: highest-paid retiree in the state’s CalPERS retirement system.

Rizzo, 55, would be entitled to at least $600,000-a-year pension for the rest of his life, according to retirement calculations made by The Times that were reviewed by pensions experts.

That would make him the highest-paid retiree in the CalPERS system, outstripping the $509,664 paid each year to Bruce Malkenhorst, former city manager of Vernon.

Not far behind would be Randy Adams, the man Rizzo brought in to be the city’s police chief last July. If Adams, 59, steps down, his pension would be worth an estimated $411,300, placing him just behind Malkenhorst on the list of top CalPERS retirement earners.

Taking the Bell job was a good career move for Adams. By moving to Bell, in just one year, the police chief more than doubled his retirement.

As debate over public-sector pensions takes center stage in this election year, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other leaders pushing for reductions at the state and local levels, the projected pension checks waiting for Rizzo and Adams have taken even veteran pension watchers by surprise.

"It’s outrageous and unsustainable," said pension reform advocate Marcia Fritz, noting that Rizzo would receive $26 million if he lived a normal lifespan. "High salary lasts just a few years – high pensions last for a lifetime."

Bell City Council members are seeking the resignation of Rizzo, Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia amid public outcry over salaries that appear to be among the highest in the nation, according to sources close to the discussions with the administrators.

Rizzo earns nearly $800,000 a year, making 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 earns $376,288, more than the top administrator for Los Angeles County.

The salaries, first reported by The Times last week, have triggered protests in the small, working-class city southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

-- Catherine Saillant and Jeff Gottlieb

Investigating Bell: A Times Special Report

-Is a city manager worth $800,000?

-Bell residents are not happy about high salaries

-High salaries fuel anger in Bell

-Bell council members under investigation for $100,000 salaries

-Video: Why do Bell officials make so much money? The Times' Jeff Gottlieb explains.

-Bell city manager might be highest paid in nation