Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bell, California: Followup.

The story on the public corruption in the impoverished
city of Bell, California just won't go away.

Thanks to the angry outcry of the citizens, City Manager
Robert "Ratso" Rizzo, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia,
and Police Chief Randy Adams have all resigned. Mayor
Oscar Hernandez, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, and councilmen
Luis Artiga and Jorge Mirabal have followed suit by agreeing
to forgo their salaries for the rest of their terms.

Only honest councilman Lorenzo Velez will remain on the

At this point, I also want to point out something that initially,
both the L.A. Times and I got wrong . Both the Times and I said
that there were seven councilmen, including the Mayor and Vice
Mayor (who are also voting members of the City Council).

In reality, there are only five all told - it is Maywood, which
outsourced everything to save money, that has a head count
of seven.

Be that as it may, the other facts speak for themselves. These
miscreants loaded themselves up with salaries and perks that
made them some of the highest paid public "servants" anywhere
in the United States, let alone California.

But the big question everyone is asking is " How did they do it?"

Here's How:

Back in 1999, then-Gov. Gray Davis and the Democrat-dominated
legislature changed two things. First, the pension-calculating
formula for all State and general-law municipality employees
with pensions administered by CalPERS, (the state public
employee retirement system)m was made more generous.
Second, the guidelines for general-law municipality employee
compensation (as Bell was at that time), were changed to
bring managerial and exempt employee compensation in
line with that of employees covered by a collective bargaining

For the Bell boodlers, this meant substantial raises in
wages and retirement benefits. But the looting didn't stop

In 2005, following the examples of the neighboring cities
of Commerce and Vernon, Bell held a special election to
become a Charter or "Home Rule" city - meaning that
thereafter they could write their own rules with respect
to wages, benefits, and collective bargaining. It also meant
that they were exempt from state guidelines on property tax
assessments, subject only to those restrictions imposed by
Proposition 13.

At the special election, only 336 of 14,000 registered
voters showed up at the polls - and as it was a special,
not a general election, notice only had to be posted in a
"newspaper of general circulation" - meaning, the Legal
Notices section of the Times. Thus for all practical
purposes, only those with a direct financial
interest in the outcome voted.

And once the Charter was granted, the pay feast
was on. The sixteen "one minute a month" city
commissions were set up, with pay scales
to match.

And that's how "Ratso" Rizzo, the City manager,
managed to get most of his pay - taking his compensation
from a base of $186,000 to his final total wages of $601,000.
And the other $187,000? That's the cash value of unpaid
vacation and sick leave, housing allowance (Rizzo owns a
$2 million dollar home in Huntington Beach),
car allowance (he drives a Mercedes-Benz, as well as a
city-provided Cadillac Escalade), and a special bonus which
enables him to retire immediately at age 55 with 31 years of
credited service - which translates to a pension
of $600,000 a year for the rest of his life.

And the most depressing news? Despite the ongoing
investigations, and the special audit of city finances
ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger, all of this
Wall-Street type looting is probably all legal.

The only hope for Bell at this point is that either Attorney
General Jerry Brown (yes, the former Governor running
again for his old job), the L. A. County District Attorney,
or The Public Integrity Division of the U.S. Attorney's
office can find some irregularity somewhere along the line.

Otherwise, they will all ride off into the sunset with the
loot, leaving the Bell citizenry holding the bag.

We're going to stay on top of this story, and we eagerly
await the outcomes of all three investigations.

No comments:

Post a Comment