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Bell schemed to hide high salaries, lawsuit claims

September 15, 2010 | 11:37 am

Brownbell Bell city officials took actions to deceive the public about their true compensation, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown alleged in a lawsuit Wednesday.

In the suit, Brown cites memos and deceptive City Council ordinances that were crafted to mislead residents.

In one memo between former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia and former Police Chief Randy Adams, the pair worked together to prepare Adams' employment contract with the city, the lawsuit alleges. Bell paid Adams $457,000 a year, about 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck or Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and more than double New York City's police commissioner.

In one draft of his contract, Adams inserted a clause specifying the number of pay periods in a year. But Spaccia told him to remove the clause because it could be easily used to calculate his total salary. In the memo, Spaccia wrote, "[w]e have crafted our Agreements carefully so we do not draw attention to our pay. The word Pay Period is used and not defined in order to protect you from someone taking the time to add up your salary," the lawsuit alleges.

The suit also alleges that the City Council defrauded the public by intentionally hiding its true compensation. The suit cites Ordinance No. 1158. The title said it would be "limiting compensation" for members of the City Council, when in fact, it nearly doubled their salaries.

A story in The Times on Wednesday also determined that former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo went to considerable lengths to keep his huge salary secret.

According to records and interviews, the city of Bell and Rizzo himself represented his salary as being significantly lower than it was. When one city councilman asked Rizzo about his salary last year, the city manager gave him a sum that was less than half the approximately $700,000 Rizzo was actually earning at the time.

The steps Rizzo took that obscured his true pay began in September 2008. At that point, he was already earning about $632,700 a year, making him one of the highest-paid city managers in the nation. That month, Rizzo signed five new contracts that kept his salary the same but changed the way he was paid. Rather than getting his entire salary from his primary job as city manager, he would now be paid in chunks from a variety of city agencies.

The contracts were signed by Oscar Hernandez, who in the documents was identified as Bell's mayor, a position that rotates among council members. At the time, Hernandez was a councilman but not the mayor. The contracts were never approved by the City Council and never placed on the council agenda.

Read full coverage at www.latimes.com/bell.

-- Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives

Photo: California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times