Calif. town outraged to learn of officials’ pay

Posted: July 24, 2010 in Blogroll, Uncategorized
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By JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press Writer John Rogers, Associated Press Writer Fri Jul 23, 11:28 pm ET

BELL, Calif. – Residents in this modest blue-collar Los Angeles suburb where one in six lives in poverty were angry: Their city manager was getting paid more than President Barack Obama and the police chief more than the commander of the nearly 13,000-member LAPD.

They demanded and got the manager, the chief and another high-salaried official to resign.

They looked for the culprits and found them in the very people they entrusted to lead their city of 40,000 people. Now, they’re campaigning to boot them out of office.

Their mayor and three of their four council members, people they see every day at the grocery store or church, approved the contracts, and put an obscure measure on the ballot that allowed council members to pay themselves any amount of money.

And they did: collecting between $90,000 and $100,000 a year as part-time officials.

“This is America and everything should be transparent,” plumber and longtime Bell resident Ralph Macias said.

In Bell, however, not many people really paid attention. The city of mostly small homes is like many American cities and towns: No newspaper covers them regularly, and the citizens spend what little free time they have with family and recreation.

A few who kept tabs on City Hall said they were suspicious because the officials were secretive, brusque and quick to act without explaining themselves.

“What caught us by surprise was the amount of money they were paying people,” said Ali Saleh, who helped form the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, whose acronym BASTA, translates to “Enough!” in Spanish.

The salaries exploded into public view last week after a Los Angeles Times investigation, based on California Public Records Act requests, showed that the city payroll was bloated with all sorts of six-figure salaries:

Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo made $787,637 a year, getting a series of raises since being hired in 1993 at $72,000. President Obama makes $400,000.

• Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia made $376,288 a year.

• Police Chief Randy Adams earned $457,000. Hired just last year to oversee a force of fewer than 50 people, he was making 50 percent more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck’s $307,000.

All three Bell officials resigned after a late-night meeting Thursday.

“To the residents of Bell, we apologize,” Mayor Oscar Hernandez said.

Now, Hernandez and the council members may be next.

By law, the council would have had to approve the contracts in an open session, but several residents complained that officials are loathe to explain what they are doing and quick to race through matters at public meetings with little discussion.

The Times said Hernandez, Vice Mayor and Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo and Councilmen George Mirabal and Luis Artiga are paid $8,000 a year, plus about $8,000 a month for boards and commissions they sit on. The other council member, Lorenzo Velez, said he is only paid the base $8,000 salary.

Earlier in the week, both Hernandez and Artiga said they deserved their salaries, adding that in addition to council meetings twice a month they are constantly on call for city business.

“That would be obscene, to think we’re getting paid for only two meetings a month,” Artiga said. “But that’s only half the story.”

The residents’ group is demanding that the big salaries be cut by 90 percent or that the officials resign.

If they don’t resign, Saleh said, his group will initiate a recall. He gave the council until Monday’s meeting to respond. In the meantime, organizers planned to paper Bell with 12,000 flyers over the weekend, urging people to attend the meeting.

City officials have declined to respond to the recall threat. A message left on City Hall’s public information line was not returned nor were messages left for Hernandez at the grocery store he owns or on Artiga’s cell phone.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the state attorney general are looking into the salaries.

Artiga said earlier in the week that while some employees may be overpaid, no one, at least so far, has accused officials of stealing money or shaking down contractors. Instead, its officials boast of the city’s $22.7 million budget surplus, its well-kept parks, clean streets and programs at the community center for people of all ages.

Still, the salary scandal has left residents suspicious.

“I think they’re a bunch of crooks,” said Macias as he left City Hall after picking up a permit to install a water heater. “They should all be investigated by the feds.”

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    Jean 3 minutes ago Report Abuse

    I have no problems with rich people being rich; maybe they work hard, know how to save, and being frugal. Even if they inherited from their parents then their parents had worked hard to leave something behind to them. Everyone can do that for his kids, or for himself. Let’s be fair. Each of us is trained to do a certain job in our society. I just don’t like the corruption at any level, and then they want to control us.

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    SP 5 minutes ago Report Abuse

    ha ha ‘land of fruits and nuts’ – that is funny

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    Spooky 5 minutes ago Report Abuse

    Not nice making degrading remarks about Mexican’s. Mexican American’s have in the past and are currently fighting and dieing in the wars we fight and are just as committed to the country as anyone else. Don’t confuse Mexican nationals that break our immigration laws to the ones that are genuine citizens.

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    Samantha B 5 minutes ago Report Abuse

    Good for them. Hopefully other small towns will take this example for their community.

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    Jack Conlan 6 minutes ago Report Abuse

    Why is everyone so upset that these officials make more than Obama does?

    They’re WORTH more than Obama is.

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    Sallie 8 minutes ago Report Abuse

    California is a Liberal Democrat ruled state, so the “Land of Fruits & Nuts” is the place to work if you have a State, County or City job…..New York and Mass. are two more super liberal states ruled by the
    Democrats and are also going bankrupt…The mindless idiot voters that blindly vote for Democrats & those with their hands out in NY & Mass continue to elect Liberal / Progressive Democrats that spend their Tax Dollars on the MOOCHERS…
    Is it a wonder why there is an exodus of major Corporations, small Businesses & Wealthy Business People are leaving these states for Southern States & other areas of the US, that have reasonable Tax Rates…If you are a “Working Middle Class” person with a family and are a resident of these Liberal / Progressive States you are being played…

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    debra 9 minutes ago Report Abuse

    It’s time we get rid of Washingto DC!! We don’t need a President or his cronies!! The American people can do a better job than what we have seen for the last 60 years?? What do they do for the people?? Nothing but take your money. That’s all they want. Look what just happened. We the tax payers just paid off the student loans for the senators kids!! No one else gets that perk!! You can never go bankrupt against student loans. You will have to pay them back. That’s ok, as long as our officials do to! They are all a bunch of crooks. Looking out for themselves!! So, my friends, just keep working and plugging along, because that’s the way DC want’s it. Legalize pot, and we will have more lathargic people not paying attention. That’s the plan. Don’t doubt it for a second.

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    Spooky 11 minutes ago Report Abuse

    Since the word “bail out” was used…….again….. to describe the loans that America’s auto industry received I must weigh in. The Banks that tanked the economy received the bail outs and weren’t asked to pay anything back or sit in front of a congressional board of inquiry. The auto industry got into trouble because of high legacy costs and what happened when the bankers tanked the economy. With restrictive tariffs designed to keep American products out of our so-called trading partners markets and our politicians taking money to look the other way we citizens darn well better start supporting our home grown companies and fellow workers or the sort of thing that’s happening in Bell, California will be just a fart in time compared to where we are headed. Stop voting Democrat or Republican or anything else and start electing people of character that will base all decisions on the Constitution of the United States. This isn’t a black or white or brown or Democrat or Republican problem, it’s a problem that the live for now and I want what I want when I want it mentality has created.

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    stewart 14 minutes ago Report Abuse

    Most of the voting age population of Bell are ILLEGAL ALIENS from Mexico.

    This is what is in store for the rest of the USA, if we don’t SECURE THE BORDER, and STOP THE INVASION.

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    Linda 17 minutes ago Report Abuse

    @ TEJINCO: I’ve never been to Calf. And don’t want to ever go there.Calf. use to be the home of the rich and movie stars.Guess the old maffia gangs died out, and a new breed of outlaws took over . Now it’s the home of beggers that thieves. At lest that’s waht they show us.

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