19 October 2010

BASTA for the City of Bell

The City of Bell, California continues to make waves regarding the corruption and waste.  This summer, the LA Times reported that this modest low middle class bedroom suburb in Los Angeles County had some of the highest salaries for city officials in the nation.  An analysis of California Public Records Act reveals that the city payroll swelled with many six and seven figure public “servants.”  Robert  Rizzo, the Bell City Manager, received an annual salary of $787,637, but with benefits the cost approached $1.5 Million. Moreover, Rizzo's contract calls for 12-percent raises each July, the same as his top deputy Rizzo’s assistant pulled in a cool $376,288. Not a bad assistant’s salary considering that the President of the United States earns only $400,000 a year.

The police chief, Randy Adams, was paid $457,000 which was 33% more than his counterpart in Los Angeles, a city that is 10 times larger.  Adams had been brought out of retirement to clean up corruption in Bell, but he demanded a salary that was better than his retirement from the Glendale, California police force.

All but one City Councilmen earned $100,000 a year for a part time job and sometimes the meetings lasted but a few moments.  Council members in other cities of a comparable size only received $4,800 for their services.

California law limits the salary of city councilmen to several hundred dollars a month.  The corrupt city officials got around this inconvenient legal obstacle by having the salaries approved in a special election that only 400 voters participated which gave the city charter status.

This news generated considerable public outrage.  During a raucous town hall meetings, there were shouts of "¡Fuera!” (Spanish for “Go Away”) from the mainly Hispanic originated citizenry. The Council threatened to clear the hall due to the disorderly dissent.  Police Chief Adams wanted the meeting to end due to fire marshal concerns (nevermind any consideration of his inflated salary).

Enraged Bell Citizens formed the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse (BASTA which means “Enough” in Spanish).  This good governance group tipped off the LA Times about the salary corruption in the City of Bell and threatens to recall City Councilmen.

In the wake of this public outcry, City Manager Rizzo, resigned and the city council voluntarily took pay reductions.  Mindful of the mid-term elections where Attorney General Jerry Brown (D-CA) is running for Governor, the Attorney General’s office investigated the kleptocracy.  On September 21, 2010, former city manager Robert Rizzo, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former assistant city manager Angela Spaccia and council members George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello were arrested and charged with misappropriation of public funds.  But those who have not resigned are still in power unless they are convicted of felonies.

But the financial fun is not done in the City of Bell.  Rizzo designed a supplemental pension plan that allowed 25 year Bell city servants to retire at 90% of their final salary.  Rizzo may have ignominiously left office but he and his cronies will not be impoverished in retirement.

Although I am inclined to support grassroots good governance groups like the Tea Party movement, I have reservations about BASTA.  The state is considering putting the City of Bell into state receivership, which seems to have vocal support at City Council meetings But BASTA's latest press release is reluctant about putting the city into receivership.   In addition, BASTA is requesting that Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA 34th) to create federal bailout legislation to relieve Bell from its debt obligations. It is telling that BASTA gets significant backing from the Bell Police Officer’s Association and AFSCME Council 36.  This Bell bailout if enacted into law would just passes the responsibility for local corruption to U.S. citizens who are Taxed Enough Already.  This should not be a test case which opens the floodgates for bankrupt states and municipalities.

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