The city of Bell, CA paid their former city manager nearly $800,000 a year. There was so much community backlash to the exorbitant salary, that he resigned. They had good reason to be outraged. The city manager was making nearly 20 times what the average family household income is in Bell. There is a gross disconnect between the City Manager and the city he manages. However, the problem is not over yet. It’s only just beginning. Robert Rizzo is due a pension of nearly $600,000 a year for the rest of his life.
How is Bell going to pay for this? By raising taxes on its residents. Bell has one of the highest property tax rates in Los Angeles County and is one of the poorest cities in the county with a comparatively low median income and a high cost of living. One resident of Bell made his complaints known to the Los Angeles Times saying: “They’re robbing us of our money”. The article went on to state that he is frustrated because he has seen his property taxes go up and the value of his home go down within the last several years. It is an alarming trend.
There are some positive developments to come out of this mess. The California Controller’s office is calling for an investigation of all city salaries to prevent something like this from happening again. There is also a citizens watchdog group that has sprung up in Bell to keep the government in check. It may be too late for Bell though. The City Manager was not the only one who was way overpaid. Part-time City Council members were paid $100,000 a year. In a city the size of Bell, they should be making about $400 a month.
The corruption goes beyond Bell, sadly. The California Pension Fund (CalPERS) knew about the pay raises to Rizzo (including a 47% increase one year), but did nothing to stop them. Well, they did do one thing. They made an exemption to their on rules in 2006 to allow the raises to continue. CalPERS rules allow for extremely high salaries, as long as they are spread around equally among all city officials, which was the case for Bell. Due to the public outcry, CalPERS now investigating all members making over $400,000 a year.
It’s a tough lesson that was learned in wasteful spending, and it’s sad that the residents of Bell are the only ones that have to learn the lesson, not the people actually responsible.