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City of Bell’s Public Officials Live High on the Hog!

July 15th, 2010 · 16 Comments

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.

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Tags: Economics · Government Accountability · Immigration

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anna // Jul 15, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I don’t think this has anything to do with a cacique, or whatever. It has to do with a lack of checks and balances. Democracy doesn’t work unless there is a check on power, and in order for the citizenry to function as a check, they have to be informed. Absolute power corrupts absolutely regardless of the race/background of the one in power.

    Rizzo and Adams are not Spanish surnames, but you don’t link their actions to their actions to their ethnicity/race.

  • 2 webmaster // Jul 15, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    “Rizzo and Adams are not Spanish surnames, but you don’t link their actions to their actions to their ethnicity/race.”

    I never claimed that those were Spanish surnames. I did point out that the City of Bell is predominantly Latino and that the city council appears to be all Latino. Why would a city council allow this to go unchecked? Hmm… could it be that they are taking advantage of the relatively uneducated and less resourceful residents? Isn’t this very “third world”? Don’t you think some of the immigrants living in Bell want to escape some of this obvious corruption? Or do you think that they want to live in a place where there aren’t any checks and balances and where city officials behave like fat cat politicians?

    I agree that power corrupts regardless of race/ethnicity, but why argue that we should have more Latino electeds? You often come here talking about how many Mexican-Americans are appointed or elected to this or that, but if it comes down to representation like this…does it really matter?

  • 3 Anna // Jul 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Re: “could it be that they are taking advantage of the relatively uneducated and less resourceful residents?”

    Obviously. But that has nothing to do with race. It happens anywhere the citizens are not informed. After the banks were deregulated, the banksters robbed trillions from the US Treasury. Is that because of their race/ethncity? Or because the regulations prohibiting this sort of thing were eliminated, and the people lacked the knowledge to know what the outcome would be? The people did not have the information to act as a check. As I said before, you can’t have a democracy without an informed citizenry. In Bell, many people are not even citizens at all.

    How did we end up with Arnold? Bush? Because of ignorant, uninformed voters.

    Stop linking everything to race and making it seem like paying a city manager too high a salary is some new idea imported from Latin America. It’s ridiculous.

  • 4 webmaster // Jul 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    My point is that many of the immigrants who live in Bell come from places where abuses like the ones listed above are typical. It seems to me that the city council is banking on the population not caring or being oblivious to this because…the council can rationalize that Bell is better than X, Y, or Z city that the residents lived in before coming to the US. No, this isn’t a new idea imported from Latin America but instead a very typical one throughout the third world or in places with gross inequality in wealth. And yes, it happens to communities of all ethnicities, but shouldn’t the Latino community in the US demand more? We already face many hurdles to get ahead, but thieving by our own elected officials doesn’t do much to advance us.

  • 5 Anna // Jul 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Re: “You often come here talking about how many Mexican-Americans are appointed or elected to this or that, but if it comes down to representation like this…does it really matter”

    Actually, I don’t say that, but whatever. Obviously, I don’t want unqualified people in office, no matter the background.

    A bunch of greedy, incompetent white people have run the country into the ground. Should we stop electing all white people? Of course, you would never make that argument about whites, but you make it about Latinos.

  • 6 webmaster // Jul 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I’m not saying we should not elect Latinos. I’m saying that these Latinos on the Bell City council do not do much to advance the Latino community and/or possibly hurt Spanish surnamed candidates like Ricardo Lara, who does not favor this practice.

    As a matter of fact, I have written about many Latino candidates that voters should consider supporting.

  • 7 Anna // Jul 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Re: “but shouldn’t the Latino community in the US demand more? ”

    They can’t demand what they don’t know they should have. The problem is a lack of education. That’s the root of most of these problems. The culture does not encourage education at all, just work.

  • 8 Anna // Jul 16, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Re: ” I’m saying that these Latinos on the Bell City council do not do much to advance the Latino community”

    I agree with that.

  • 9 IE // Jul 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    HOLY MOLE!!!

    Talk about some crooks in the City of Bell. I can just see the private city council meetings now…

    “Hey guys, let rip off this uneducated populations were supposed to represent. They won’t know what to do.”….

    Nice work on this piece. And Kudos to the LA Times for unmasking these shameless crooks!

  • 10 El Cholo // Jul 17, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Engaging in rational discussions with the Latino Apologist, aka Anna, aka Sunny, aka Whomever She Plans to Be At That Moment serves no purpose other than to convey the moronic opinion of someone who has no concept of public service, public responsibility, and public accountability and what that entails within the scope of a civil servant. The WebMaster shouldn’t waste their value time engaging with this imbecile.

  • 11 the Kaiser // Jul 17, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Her (the Latino Apologist, aka Bubbles, Sunny, Anna), and you can read her duplicitous exchange with the WebMaster, is virtually clueless to the obligations and responsibilities inherited by an elected official (Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, Jewish, and White). The Latino community remains at the very bottom of the American social/political ladder, despite a significant voting bloc because the majority of its political representation is self-serving and corrupt. Most of Congress is self-serving and corrupt, but does that rationalize the majority of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus being corrupt, along with all the non- profit advocacy groups? The Latino Apologist seems to think so. Hilda Solis and Raul Grijalva can’t continue opening doors, creating opportunity, and passing real legislation for the Latino community all by themselves. You shouldn’t vote for a politician just because they have a Spanish surname. That’s the main problem with the Latino community. The content of one’s character far exceeds in importance to one’s last name.

  • 12 Anna // Jul 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Maybe you should read my posts again and this time try to comprehend what I am saying. I didn’t defend the actions of the elected officias in Bell. I
    said that elected officlas who give themselves big salaries have nothing to do with being Latino, as the webmaster implied.

    You can find that behavior anywhere the citizenry is too ignorant to act as a check on the government.

    Re: “the majority of its political representation is self-serving and corrupt.”

    That’s nonsense. It’s easy to blame your problems on elected officials, but the real problem is the culture. The methods that ensure survival in Mexico, do not work here. Keeping the girls out of school to work/babysit, and having more kids than you can support will keep you mired in poverty, no matter who is in office. Women, married or not, should use birth control until age 30 and spend their 20s going to school, working and saving. Child development classes wouldn’t hurt either.

    Instead, you see women with three kids by age 25, feeding their toddlers McDonald’s and by then, it’s over.

  • 13 These guys are thieves // Jul 18, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    This is just like Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Rizzo and Adams) basically legally stealing from their residents . I hope some Robin Hood, in the form of a lawyer, District Attorney, State Attorney General, or the courts file an injunction to stop the stealing and allow the community time to fire their coincilmembera or shaming Rizzo and Adams into resigimg or maybe going to jail. They knew what they were doing was wrong and an abuse of power.

  • 14 Cockroach People // Jul 29, 2010 at 5:36 am

    “…but the real problem is the culture. The methods that ensure survival in Mexico, do not work here. Keeping the girls out of school to work/babysit, and having more kids than you can support will keep you mired in poverty, no matter who is in office. Women, married or not, should use birth control until age 30 and spend their 20s going to school, working and saving. Child development classes wouldn’t hurt either.”

    Anna’s issues are much deeper than we thought. I agree that the webmaster should not waste her valuable time responding, unless she is actually a therapist, then perhaps she can provoke a transformation.

    How the problem of corrupt politicians has anything to do with the moronic statement quoted here is certainly beyond my comprehension. First, not all Latinos are immigrants or even Mexicans; so, I’m not sure how the Mexico survival guide factors in. Second, most of the Latino politicians play up their Latino-ness as a bonus especially when they are in insanely gerrymandered districts that ensure the election of a Latino qua Latino representative–not just any other politician, race being unimportant. As usual, Anna misunderstands how the political system actually works especially when it comes to Latino representatives.

    Anyone who thinks these politicians don’t do things that they wouldn’t do in a non-Latino district is extremely naive. Corrupt people do whatever they can get away with. A corrupt Latino in a Latino district can get away with more things because of at least two constituencies that would be blind to their shenanigans: 1) the immigrant crowd who doesn’t understand the system and thus can’t hold them accountable 2) the apologist crowd who that constantly turns a blind eye to incompetence (think Loretta Sanchez) because of some axiomatic (old-school, really) commitment to having more Latinos in office.

    I do agree that Latinos need more education–especially the apologists who do not grasp the complexity of modern democracy.

  • 15 rob // Aug 22, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    show me one latino organization that isn’t corrupt. from the family unit to heads of state, all lying scamers.

  • 16 Candidate Profile: Lucy Flores for Nevada State Assembly // Oct 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    [...] With all of the recent press about the Latino voter enthusiasm gap, I thought that it would be a good idea to profile some up and coming Latino leaders who are running for local office. While people tend to get excited about electing a president every four years, voters have a better chance of holding their local elected officials accountable than they do presidents or even senators and congressional representatives. In a more perfect democracy, everyone would be interested in the people running for local judge, DA, assembly, state senate, school board, and city council. We know what happens when citizens aren’t paying as close attention to these local elected officials, especially in light of the City of Bell pay scandals. [...]

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