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In wake of Bell salary scandal, state controller to require that cities disclose pay in financial reports

August 3, 2010 | 12:58 pm

In the continuing fallout from the Bell salary scandal, State Controller John Chiang announced Tuesday that he would overhaul city financial reporting requirements to require that salary information for elected officials and other employees be clearly stated. The information would be posted on his office’s website beginning in November, he said.

The action comes as a Times analysis found that Bell’s reports to the state in recent years have shown that costs for its legislative activities, including City Council salaries, declined sharply since 2005, at a time when overall council compensation rose to nearly $100,000 for part-time work.

“The absence of transparency is a breeding ground for waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars,” said Chiang, who is running for re-election. “A single website with accessible information will make sure that excessive pay is no longer able to escape public scrutiny and accountability.”

The new requirements follow reports by The Times that Bell spent $1.6 million annually on just three city employees, including nearly $800,000 on the city manager. Council members drew pay for serving on multiple city panels, some of which met at the same time or for as little a minute.

Under current law, local governments must transmit summary information about their revenues and expenditures to the state, which goes into reports the controller prepares for the Legislature and posts on the internet. Payroll information is included in total amounts spent on various government functions, such as police, but not itemized separately.

The new rules, which Chiang said would be issued in the coming weeks, will require compensation figures for each category of local official, including council members and city managers.

“We have to make sure people aren’t moving categories or hiding what they are being paid,” Chiang said in an interview. “We want to put it in a format people understand.” Bell reported a total of just $34,483 in spending for its legislative activity in 2007-08, far below the total of council compensation alone.

The apparent disparity is "obviously a question that needs an answer," Chiang said.

-- Rich Connell     

Investigating Bell: A Times special report:

Is a city manager worth $800,000?

In depth: High salaries in Bell

Interactive: How the salaries got so high

Interactive: Paying too much? How property taxes compare

Video: Why do Bell officials make so much money?

Photos: Protests in Bell