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3 Bell leaders to quit in pay scandal

Officials to resign in controversy over city salaries that are among the highest in the United States.

July 23, 2010|By Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times Staff

Bell's top administrators, whose hefty salaries have stirred public outrage and calls for investigations, agreed to resign Thursday night during a closed-door City Hall meeting.

City Manager Robert Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia will not receive severance packages. Rizzo will step down at the end of August and Spaccia will leave at the end of September. Adams will also leave at the end of August, after completing an evaluation of the Police Department.

The decision was announced at midnight to a crowd of angry Bell residents who anxiously had been waiting since the City Council began its meeting at 4:30 p.m. None of the administrators attended the session.

The crowd erupted in applause after the announcement but immediately yelled out questions about what would happen to the council members. Four of the five are paid close to $100,000 annually. When their questions were not answered, they shouted, "Recall!"

"Definitely letting go of these three top officials is the first step we need to fix the city," said Cristina Garcia, a member of BASTA, or the Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse.

Throughout the evening, several residents complained that the council was taking too long, while others clapped in unison to urge the members to come out.

"This is outrageous," said Marcelino Ceja, who has lived in the city for 17 years. "They have to hurry up. I've got kids to feed."

The emergency meeting followed several days of negotiations between the officials and attorneys for the city to reach deals.The crowd began shouting when Councilman Lorenzo Velez's request to open the meeting to the public was overruled by the city attorney, who said the city would be at legal risk if it discussed personnel matters in public.

Emotions ran so high that the council chamber was briefly cleared. Several residents taunted council members, including yelling "rude, rude" when Mayor Oscar Hernandez's cellphone rang. Several urged the entire council to resign.

The Times revealed last week that the city's top officials have lucrative contracts that pay them some of the highest municipal wages in the country. Rizzo is paid $787,637 a year; Adams makes $457,000 and Spaccia makes $376,288.

Velez, who makes only $8,076, has expressed shock at the amount his fellow council members are paid. Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo said Velez makes less than the others because he was appointed, not elected. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office is looking at the salaries of council members to see whether they violate state law.

On Thursday, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said he had ordered an investigation into the high salaries, calling the compensation packages "almost beyond belief." He said that the administrators' pay "morally borders on a gift of public funds" and that his office would "exhaust every possibility under California law'' to determine if Bell's leaders acted illegally.

In an interview with The Times earlier this month, Rizzo and Hernandez defended Rizzo's pay, saying the city had been on the brink of bankruptcy when Rizzo came aboard and quickly turned the city's finances around. Rizzo lives in Huntington Beach and owns a sprawling horse ranch in Auburn, Wash., that is valued at more than $1 million, according to property records.

Rizzo was arrested in March on suspicion of drunk driving when he crashed into a neighbor's mailbox and then pulled into a nearby alley, police said.

His blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.28% — more than three times the legal limit, police said.

He is enrolled in an alcohol-abuse class, court records show.

Times staff writer Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.

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