Calif. City Officials Resign Over Outrage At Salaries

fromKRCC

Three officials in the city of Bell, Calif., resigned Friday over their pay. The chief administrative officer made nearly $800,000, the police chief nearly $500,000 and the assistant city manager almost $400,000. There are still some questions about how big their pensions will be.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Three top city administrators in the small Los Angeles suburb of Bell last night resigned. That's after their hefty salaries sparked outraged among the city's poor and working class residents. Bell's chief administrative officer hauled in nearly $800,000 a year, likely the highest salary for any city manager in the country and almost twice the pay of President Obama.

From member station KPCC, Frank Stoltze reports.

FRANK STOLTZE: Angry residents waited until the Bell city council finished a marathon closed-door meeting at midnight to hear the news.

(Soundbite of meeting)

Unidentified Man #1: Number one, the chief administrative officer, Mr. Robert Rizzo, has resigned effective August 30th, 2010.

STOLTZE: In addition to Rizzo, the police chief, who made nearly $500,000 a year and the assistant city manager who made almost $400,000, stepped down. The resignations failed to quell residents' rage.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Group: Recall, recall, recall, recall.

STOLTZE: Many want to see the recall of city council members who approved the big salaries and had voted to pay themselves $100,000 a year for their part time work in one of the poorest cities in the region.

Ali Saleh is with the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse.

Mr. ALI SALEH (Bell Association to Stop the Abuse): There's no faith in them anymore for them to stay any longer.

STOLTZE: Bell sits about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Its 40,000 residents are 90 percent Latino. More than half are foreign born. Like most municipalities, Bell has laid off workers as it struggles with declining tax revenues. Still, Mayor Oscar Hernandez defended city salaries to local television station KTLA.

Mr. OSCAR HERNANDEZ (Mayor, Bell, California): If you want good service, I think you deserve to get good money.

Unidentified Man #2: How do you justify $800,000 in a city this small and this poor?

Mr. .HERNANDEZ: The only thing I say this community, they're receiving a good service.

STOLTZE: That hasn't convinced State Attorney General Jerry Brown, who's opened an investigation into Bell's pay practices. Councilman Lorenzo Velez receives a fraction of his colleagues' salary. He said he only became aware of the big salaries recently. And that the scandal sends a message.

Mr. LORENZO VELEZ (Council Member): It's important for everybody everywhere, wherever you are to stay aware of what's going on in your municipality and your city hall.

STOLTZE: One remaining question: whether the top officials who have resigned will receive pensions as high as $650,000 a year for the rest of their lives. The California Public Employees Retirement System says it's looking into the matter.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Stoltze in Los Angeles.

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