In the wake of a major salary scandal, some City Council members in the small working-class community of Bell, California have resigned and others have announced that they will take a 90% pay cut. Many officials in the 40,000-person city near downtown L.A. were making $96,000 a year for part-time elected positions that are typically paid about 1/20 of that amount.
The revelations of inflated salaries in Bell — where one city official banked nearly $800,000 a year — have caused massive public outrage and triggered a review by the state’s top fiscal officer.The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has also begun an investigation into the salaries of Bell City Council members, many of whom had managed to rack up close to $100,000 a year by supplementing their relatively paltry salaries with stipends for serving on city commissions, the Los Angeles Times reports. Typically, elected officials for a California city the size of Bell would make closer to $5,000 a year for their service.
But according to the Times:
The city’s top officials received some of the highest municipal wages in the nation. City Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo made $787,637 a year, almost twice the salary of President Obama; Police Chief Randy Adams made $457,000, 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck; and Assistant City Manager Spaccia made $376,288, more than the top administrator for Los Angeles County.
The Times calculated the breakdown of wages for City Council members, who supplemented their base salary of $1,800 with commission work. Some of the officials received additional yearly wages of $18,895.80 for each commission they served on. And it wasn’t always hard work. The Surplus Property Authority, for example, would frequently hold meetings that lasted for less than a minute. The Public Financing Authority would just hold many of its meetings during general council meetings.
State Attorney General Jerry Brown yesterday subpoenaed documents from Bell going back to 2003, including “e-mails, employment contracts, ordinances and resolutions.” He said in a press conference that “hundreds of thousands of public dollars were paid out under suspicious circumstances.”
Brown asked: “How did they come to the conclusion that public officials should make that much money?”
In response to public outcry over the wages, some officials announced yesterday that they would take a 90% pay cut, down to $673 a month. Mayor Oscar Hernandez and Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo said they will not take any more pay for the rest of their terms.
CNN reported today on one particularly heated meeting between residents and council members. Residents demanded that the remaining officials resign, amid shouts of “shame on you.” One man even referred to them as “piece[s] of sh*t.”
Mayor Hernandez has apologized to the residents of the Bell since the initial Times reports:
Since my first day as mayor, my priority has been to make Bell a city its residents can be proud to call home. I apologize that the council’s past decisions with regard to the indefensible administrative salaries have failed to meet that test.
Late Update: It now looks like county investigators are widening their probe of Bell to include allegations of voter fraud and possible conflict of interests involving city business. More on this soon.