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Council pay in Vernon, Inglewood and Compton is high, but Bell is still No. 1

Of 25 charter cities in Los Angeles County, fewer than half paid their council members more than $20,000 a year. Meanwhile, Inglewood was paying $61,884; Vernon, $68,052; and Bell, nearly $100,000.

August 15, 2010|By Sam Allen and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

City council members in Vernon, Compton and Inglewood receive significantly higher compensation than most of their counterparts in Los Angeles County, according to a Los Angeles Times review of salary figures.

Council members in the industrial city of Vernon, which has fewer than 100 residents, earn $68,052 a year. By contrast, council members in Arcadia, a suburb of about 56,000, earn a maximum of $6,720.

The Times requested council compensation figures in the wake of the pay scandal in Bell, where three top city administrators stepped down after their outsized salaries were revealed. Four of the five members of the Bell City Council earned nearly $100,000 a year until they took pay cuts last month after a public outcry.

In 2005, the state passed a law limiting the pay of council members in general-law cities. The restrictions are based on population and range from $300 to $1,000 a month. Council members may vote to increase their salaries above those limits, but only by 5% a year.

But in charter cities, state law does not limit the salaries councils can set for themselves. After Bell voted to adopt a city charter in 2005, salaries escalated rapidly, records show.

The Times examined the salaries paid to council members in L.A. County's 25 charter cities and found none with compensation as high as in Bell. A majority of those surveyed paid their council members less than $20,000 a year; mayors in many cases earned slightly more than the rest of the council.

However, there were several notable exceptions.

Vernon council members work part-time and receive a monthly salary of $5,671, plus reimbursements for business expenses and healthcare benefits. The city also makes an annual contribution to council members' accounts in the California Public Employees' Retirement system.

Officials there defended the compensation, saying that council members deal with a unique set of issues because Vernon is a largely industrial city.

"They are the core leadership that oversees the city's important work," said Mark Whitworth, interim city administrator. "Are they worth their money? Absolutely."

In Inglewood, the mayor — a full-time position that has been vacant since former Mayor Roosevelt Dorn pleaded guilty to a public corruption charge in January — makes $111,300 a year. Council members are paid $61,884 a year.

In Compton, the part-time City Council members can receive up to $36,000 a year for their council and commission duties; part-time Mayor Eric Perrodin can earn $43,200. In addition, each gets a $650-a-month auto allowance.

Other cities on the high end of the pay scale include Glendale, where council members and the mayor can make up to $32,400 annually plus $525 a month for auto expenses, and Industry, where council members make up to $26,125.

Four charter cities — Arcadia, Lancaster, Signal Hill and Temple City — pay their mayor and council members less than $10,000 annually.

L.A. County's two largest cities pay their council members the most.

According to data released by the Los Angeles city controller last week, council members earn $178,789 a year, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa makes $232,426. A spokeswoman for the mayor said that figure does not reflect pay cuts in the last two years, which bring his current salary to $195,238.

In Long Beach, the full-time mayor earns $127,602.

City council members commonly oversee redevelopment agencies or sit on housing, finance or other special commissions. In general law cities, council members may make up to $150 a month for each commission they serve on. Charter cities may choose to pay more.

In addition to their pay, elected officials can receive lucrative auto allowances, reimbursements and deferred compensation.

In Bell, special payouts accounted for most of the council members' earnings; they collected five payouts of $18,895 for service on the Public Financing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, City Housing Authority, Planning Commission and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority.

"Bell, of course, is an aberration," said Patrick Whitnell, general counsel for the League of California Cities. "It's unfortunately tainted all levels of government."

The league launched a survey of city manager compensation statewide in the wake of the revelation that Bell's former City Manager Robert Rizzo was collecting nearly $800,000 a year; but it has not undertaken a similar effort for city councils.

State Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) has proposed a bill that would impose a substantial tax on council members who receive "excessive compensation."

"You have to have some consequences for folks who go around the door," he said.

In addition to De La Torre's bill, which will be up for consideration again this week, state Sen. Louis Correa (D- Santa Ana) is proposing a bill that would require officials to post compensation figures online.

"I think the best approach is to put sunshine on these issues," Correa said. "I want to make sure it's all disclosed."

sam.allen@latimes.com

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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