This week the Los Angeles Times ran a piece about the City of Bell, which is a predominantly Latino municipality in a section of LA County called “the Southeast Cities.” The subject of the article was the city’s overpaid city officials. In a recession and during a time when other public officials are subject to furloughs and pay cuts, what the city council of Bell has decided to allow is quite appalling.
Some highlights of exorbitant salaries in this poor city include:
- City Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo is paid a whopping salary of $787,637. In 1993, he started in the City of Bell at $72,000 and has managed to ramp up his salary in the past decade. Rizzo’s current contract with the City of Bell guarantees 12% salary increases each July. And the city council has rewarded this fat cat with another week of vacation, bringing his annual vacation to five weeks.
- Bell Police Chief Randy Adams makes nearly a half million, earning $457,000 a year. This is about 50% more than the police chief of Los Angeles. The City of Bell has about 37,000 people, whereas the city of Los Angeles has a population of about 3.8 million people.
- And the city council members in Bell pay each of themselves a hefty $100,000 per year for what amounts to a part-time job. Cities of comparable size typically pay their council members $400 per month. This particular issue is being investigated by the district attorney, but the salaries of the other city officials (police chief and administrative chief, etc.) appear to not be in violation of any law.
To put things in perspective, the City of Bell has a total area of 2.4 square miles. According to the US Census Bureau, the estimated median household income in the City of Bell is $38,502. The City has a higher percentage of individuals and families living under the poverty level than the national average. And of the city population 25 years and older, only about 3 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
I was able to communicate with a Ricardo Lara, a local candidate for Assembly in the 50th district which includes the City of Bell, and he offered this:
“I’m a strong believer in honest pay for an honest day’s work. While I understand the need to attract qualified staff, I urge the City of Bell to re-evaluate how they compensate top managers. Regardless of results, compensation that is three times the average of neighboring cities is not acceptable, especially when you consider the unemployment rate and the budget deficits we face in Southeast LA County and throughout the state.”
And today the LA Times has come out with an article following up on the original piece showing city outrage over the inflated salaries.
I was particularly struck by this statement in the follow up piece:
“It’s a blue-collar city. A lot of people are just trying to make ends meet,” said Bell resident Victor Munoz, who said he was laid off from his telecommunications job last year and was now taking pharmacy technician classes.
Munoz, 42, has lived in the area for decades and says the immigrant community is largely unaware of what happens at City Hall.
“They don’t know or they don’t understand it,” he said. “Because of the language barrier or their schooling, they don’t always comprehend what’s going on.”
I find this particularly troubling since the City Council in Bell appears to be all Latino. One would hope that officials in our communities would not line their pockets at the expense of the working class that they serve. This reminds me of the cacique mentality that Cockroach People so eloquently writes about in the Latino community in Chicago. What kind of message does this send to youngsters in Bell, California who might be interested in pursuing a career in public service? And what exactly do the citizens of Bell receive for luxury priced city officials? I can guarantee you that it isn’t luxury style city services.