Bell City Manager Scandal: Official Making $800k Safe For Now

07/20/2010 05:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011


BELL, Calif. -- So many City of Bell residents showed up to Monday night's city council meeting to express their anger over the high salary scandal, the meeting had to be postponed until next week.

According to witnesses in the meeting, there was chaos in Bell City Hall as residents packed the floor and tried to make public comment to the mayor and council members.


Earlier Monday, the vice mayor of Bell said Monday that the city's highly paid top administrator will resign or be fired in the wake of an L.A. Times report that he and other top officials are among the highest-paid municipal executives in the nation.

Teresa Jacobo said she expected city Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo to lose his job at Monday's council meeting.

"Tonight we have a meeting where we will take drastic measures," she said. "Unfortunately, we had too much trust in people we felt were doing an excellent job."

She added: "Mr. Rizzo will have to go one way or another." Asked if Rizzo would resign, she said, "We hope."

Earlier Monday, a Bell city councilman called for a "completely open and transparent" investigation into the salaries of top executives and his council colleagues, saying if the report that Bell officials are among the highest-paid administrators and elected municipal leaders in the nation is true, they should resign immediately.

Councilman Lorenzo Velez, who was appointed to the council in the working-class city in October, also said he received only $310.62 every two weeks for his work as a councilman -- far less than the $100,000 his colleagues collected annually.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office is investigating the council salaries. Normally, council members in a city the size of Bell would be paid about $400 a month, the D.A.'s office reported.

Last week, the Times reported that Bell, one of the poorest cities in L.A. County, pays its top officials some of the highest salaries in the nation, including nearly $800,000 annually for its city manager.

Bell's Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo gets an annual salary of $787,637 -- nearly twice the salary of President Obama.

Police Chief Randy Adams makes $457,000 a year -- about 50-percent more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and more than double New York City's police commissioner.

Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia makes $376,288 annually, more than most city managers and more than the chief executive for Los Angeles County.

Rizzo's contract calls for 12-percent raises each July, the same as his top deputy, according to documents obtained under the California Public Records Act.

Rizzo, who has run Bell's day-to-day civic affairs since 1993, was unapologetic about his salary -- which is nearly twice as much as President Obama's reported salary of $400,000 a year.

"If that's a number people choke on, maybe I'm in the wrong business," he told KTLA partner, The Los Angeles Times.

"I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I've done."

Spaccia agreed, adding: "I would have to argue you get what you pay for."

Even the city's mayor is defending the salaries, saying the community credits Rizzo for the city's success.

Bell has less than 40,000 residents. Its per capita income is about half that for the U.S.

By comparison, Manhattan Beach, a far wealthier city with about 7,000 fewer people, paid its most recent city manager $257,484 a year.

The city manager of Long Beach, with a population close to 500,000, earns $235,000 annually.

The salaries do not appear to violate any laws, said Dave Demerjian, head of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Public Integrity Division.

State law governs how much city council members can be paid, but not the amounts that council members decide to pay administrators, Demerjian said.

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