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Judge rejects former Bell police chief's bid to double pension

Randy Adams was seeking a pension of $510,000 a year. The judge says the Bell City Council never approved his $457,000 annual salary.

October 23, 2012|By Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times
  • Bell Police Chief Randy Adams attends a City Council meeting during the Bell salary scandal in July 2010.
Bell Police Chief Randy Adams attends a City Council meeting during the… (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)

A judge has rejected an effort by Bell's former police chief to more than double his pension to $510,000 a year, saying that the City Council never approved his extravagant contract and that city officials tried to keep his salary secret.

Randy Adams, who was fired as the city was engulfed in scandal, would have become one of the highest paid public pensioners in California had his request been approved.

The cost of doubling Adams' pension would have fallen primarily on Ventura, Simi Valley and Glendale, where he spent most of his career. Ventura alone would have been on the hook for nearly $2 million of Adams' future pension, according to state pension officials.

Full coverage: Corruption in Bell

The ruling leaves Adams with a $240,000-a-year pension, the eighth highest paycheck in California's largest public employee retirement system

The decision follows a three-day hearing in Orange County last month in which Adams asserted his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination 20 times.

"It's justice for the citizens of Bell and justice for the citizens of California who start to take a stand against pension abuse," City Manager Doug Willmore said. "It tells Randy Adams what he did was clearly wrong, and he knew it or should have known it."

Adams ran the tiny police department in Bell for just a year, but his extraordinary salary put him in a position to more than double his retirement pay. As chief, he was paid $457,000 a year, much higher than either Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck or the police commissioner of New York City. He and other municipal leaders in Bell were fired after The Times exposed their salaries.

Eight city officials now charged with public corruption are awaiting trial. Adams is not among them.

In his fight for a higher retirement check, Adams was appealing a decision by the California Public Employees' Retirement System that his short stint in Bell should not count toward his retirement.

CalPERS calculated that the higher pension would have cost an additional $3.1 million, with Ventura paying $1.93 million, Simi Valley $600,000 and Glendale $536,000. Bell would have owed $84,579.

Adams retired as police chief in Glendale shortly before taking the job in Bell. Although Glendale is roughly six times the size of Bell, his salary doubled when he took his new job.

James Ahler, the administrative law judge who heard the case, said that keeping Adams' contract secret was part of a plan by former City Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo and former assistant administrator Angela Spaccia to hide city salaries.

"Some emails demonstrate a conscious effort to shield salaries paid to certain City of Bell employees, including Mr. Adams, from public view," Ahler wrote.

The chief, the judge wrote, also wanted to keep confidential an agreement that would have eventually granted him a disability retirement, meaning that half his pension would have been tax-free. His decision included an email that Adams sent to Spaccia during contract negotiations. "I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell's money?!" he wrote. "Okay...just a share of it."

Greg Adam, the former police chief's attorney, said they had expected the ruling.

"It doesn't surprise me, given the political prism things in Bell are now being viewed through, that the judge found a way to rule against Randy," he said.

Adams can appeal the ruling to CalPERS' 12-person board or file a lawsuit.

Other legal fights await Adams. He has sued the city for severance pay. The city has sued him, saying that it wants Adams to return his salary and a portion of the $20 million Bell estimates it lost in the corruption scandal.

Besides the $457,000 salary, Adams' contract also called for Bell to pay his retirement contributions and to offer him and his dependents lifetime medical, dental and vision insurance.

Adams' attorney criticized CalPERS for waiting until the Bell scandal broke before acting. "CalPERS was accepting the contributions on this very large sum. They must have seen this was an inordinate amount of money, yet did anyone say, 'Wait a minute.' No. They took the money."

Rizzo, Spaccia and former Councilman George Cole — all of whom face corruption charges — are also fighting CalPERS' decision to cut their pensions.

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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