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Bell court hearing: City clerk testifies Rizzo asked her to doctor his contracts

March 3, 2011 |  3:10 pm

Bell City Clerk Rebecca Valdez testifies at the preliminary hearing for six current and former Bell city council members on Feb. 10, 2011. The city clerk of Bell testified Thursday that former City Administrator Robert Rizzo instructed her last year to doctor employee contracts at a time when residents and the media were asking for the salaries of their elected officials and the city’s top administrator.

Rebecca Valdez testified that Rizzo asked her last June to remove the city attorney’s signature line from five contracts that had been created two years earlier but had gone unsigned. The contracts did not change Rizzo’s salary, which at the time was $632,700, but split up his pay so that it was drawn from a variety of city agencies -- making it harder to determine his full compensation.

Because the 2008 contracts had never been signed, Valdez said she was ordered to get the mayor’s signature on all of them.

When she mentioned she would get a signature from George Mirabal, who was mayor in 2008, she said Rizzo told her to seek out the current mayor, Oscar Hernandez, instead.

Valdez, who received limited immunity for her testimony in the ongoing hearings that will determine whether eight current and former leaders will stand trial for misappropriating more than $5 million,  said Rizzo placed the unsigned documents in a stack of resolutions that required Hernandez’s signature.

The city clerk, who said Rizzo asked her to give the stack of documents to Hernandez, said she did not tell the mayor about the contracts.

Afterward, Valdez testified, Rizzo told her to lower the numeric amounts listed on each contract. “It was pretty low, I don’t remember the exact number.”

Valdez said she was bothered by Rizzo’s orders and ended up seeking advice from Tom Brown, an attorney working for the city at that time.

“I didn’t come into work the following day because I was really sick just thinking about the situation,” she testified.

Rizzo’s attorney, James Spertus, accused Valdez of downplaying her role at City Hall.

“It seemed to me she was trying to portray herself as a naive young girl when in fact she’s a highly educated, trained public administrator,” Spertus said.


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-- Corina Knoll

Photo: Bell City Clerk Rebecca Valdez testifies at the preliminary hearing for eight current and former Bell City Council members on Feb. 10, 2011. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times