The Bell city manager, assistant city manager and police chief resigned from their jobs Thursday night after a public outcry over their high salaries. Now Bell residents can help regulate city officials' salaries by revoking the city charter on November ballots.
Cal State Fullerton political scientist Raphe Sonenshein said that if the people of Bell vote to revoke the city’s charter, general law provisions would limit elected officials’ salaries.
“Usually the abuses in a charter city, of a small city, will be in contracting and areas like that and the state has lots of authority to go in and look at contracts," said Sonenshein. "Are they being given out fairly? Are they being given out with competitive bidding? Et cetera. It’s always worrisome to have the state take away charter authority from cities. That would be an extreme last resort but they should be investigating when there is illegal activity.”
Sonenshein said the Bell officials’ salaries are out of line with the furloughs and pay cuts other local governments have imposed on their employees. Citizens of Bell may vote to revoke the city charter in the November elections.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo will step down at the end of August, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia at the end of September and police Chief Randy Adams at the end of August after completing an evaluation of the police department. They are not expected to receive severance packages.
Rizzo earns nearly $800,000 a year, Adams earns $457,000 annually and
Spaccia makes $376,288 a year, Bell city reports say.
Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez says the resignation of these three officials will begin a new era in the city.
"Today, our City Council took the quick and decisive action that is in the best interest of our city so that we may return our attention to delivering outstanding city services,'' Hernandez said in a statement.
The decision was announced around midnight after the City Council met for about six hours in closed session.
Rizzo will step down at the end of August, Spaccia at the end of September and Adams at the end of August after completing an evaluation of the police department. They are not expected to receive severance packages.
"Definitely letting go of these three top officials is the first step we need to fix the city,'' Cristina Garcia, a member of BASTA, the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, told The Times.
The group is still seeking the immediate resignations of four of the five council members -- Hernandez and council members Luis Artiga, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, Garcia said.
Each of the four make about $100,000 a year, thanks to payments from being members of other bodies, whose meetings are held simultaneously with the council meetings.
"The only condition in which we will cease to demand their resignation is if each of the above-mentioned council members agree to adjust their salaries to be on par with the salary of council member Lorenzo Velez,'' Garcia said.
Velez, who has been on the council since October 2009, has stated that he is paid about $310 every two weeks as a result of his council job.
BASTA also wants a freeze on pension packages for Rizzo, Spaccia and Adams until an independent audit and investigation into city and police department expenditures can be conducted.
Adams' resignation was called "a strong first step in cleaning up the mess in Bell,'' by Gilbert Jara, president of the Bell Police Officers Association, the union representing the department's rank-and-file officers, "but more needs to be done.''
"We still need to make sure Adams doesn't walk away with a sweetheart pension deal,'' Jara said. "The need for more officers to patrol Bell is too great to waste any more taxpayer money.''
Jara also praised Attorney General Jerry Brown's investigation into the salaries paid to top Bell city officials.
"We are glad our efforts to expand the scope of the investigations into public corruption in the city of Bell have been fruitful,'' Jara said. "We will support Attorney General Brown's efforts in any way we can.''
Hernandez defended the salary paid to Rizzo, and again praised the work he had done for the city. He also offered an apology to Bell residents.
"We recognize that today's economic climate and the financial hardships so many families are suffering put our past compensation decisions in a new light,'' Hernandez said. "To the residents of Bell, we apologize. We are confident that your pride in our great city endures and that the city's financial health and superior public services demonstrate that our priorities remain intact.''