High-paid California council members say they’ll slash pay
Associated Press Writerg
BELL, Calif. – The mayor of this small, working-class city apologized Monday for the excessive salaries being paid to officials and said he would finish his term without pay.
The move came as an about-face for Mayor Oscar Hernandez, who last week defended the salaries in the largely blue-collar city southeast of Los Angeles with about 40,000 people.
Hernandez said in a statement posted on the city clerk’s website that the salaries were indefensible.
The city’s chief administrative officer was earning nearly $800,000 a year before he resigned last week. Four of the five members of the City Council earn about $100,000 a year for running the city where about 17 percent of residents live in poverty.
“My priority has been to make Bell a city its residents can be proud to call home,” Hernandez said in a statement published on the city clerk’s website. “I apologize that the council’s past decisions with regard to the indefensible administrative salaries have failed to meet that test.”
He said he would not seek re-election when his term expires in March.
The City Council intends to take action to drastically reduce their pay at its Monday night meeting, according to another statement issued by the city.
Bell’s city manager, police chief and assistant city manager all resigned last week, days after it was revealed they were making salaries totaling $1.6 million a year.
The six-figure salaries at City Hall have prompted backlash from the community and investigations by the California attorney general and county district attorney.
Last week, Hernandez defended the salaries of the city manager and other staff as being in line with similar positions in other jurisdictions and noted the city had achieved 15 years of balanced budgets.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a candidate for governor, said he had subpoenaed hundreds of records from the city. He demanded to see employment contracts within two days to determine whether to file any charges.
“The real question is what were they thinking?” Brown said. “What was the atmosphere in Bell that would allow this and make it plausible at least to the members of the City Council.”
The grass-roots Bell Association to Stop the Abuse had threatened to recall the council members if they didn’t resign or slash their own pay.
The salaries exploded into public view after a Los Angeles Times investigation, based on California Public Records Act requests, showed the city payroll was bloated with 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 Barack Obama makes $400,000.
– Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia made $376,288 a year.
– Police Chief Randy Adams earned $457,000 – $150,000 more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
Monday’s statement on the city website said Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo and Councilmen Luis Artiga and George Mirabal would have slashed their salaries at a meeting last Thursday but could not because the issue had yet to be placed on the council’s agenda.
Councilman Lorenzo Velez makes about $8,000 a year, in line with the part-time pay for council members of similar-sized cities. He urged his colleagues to reduce their salaries to that level.
Nearly 300 protesters marched to the homes and workplaces of the mayor and council members during a raucous protest Sunday. Some carried signs and wore T-shirts proclaiming, “My city is more corrupt than your city,” and passed out fliers urging people to attend the council meeting.
Associated Press Writer Greg Risling contributed to this story.