Lawyer who OKd lavish salaries in Bell won’t be interim city attorney

The Bell City Council decided Wednesday night not to appoint as its interim city attorney the lawyer who signed off on lavish salaries for the city’s top administrators.

Bell interim city attorney: An article in Thursday’s LATExtra section about Bell’s choice for interim city attorney misspelled the last name of interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo, in one reference, as Carillo. —

The decision came after angry Bell residents, chanting “Out, out” in Spanish at City Hall, delivered recall notices to four council members in a packed council chamber.

Residents demanded the council not name Edward Lee to the post. Outside City Hall, they held up signs that read “Ed Lee Out” and “Fire Ed Lee.”

“You have made decisions based on these lawyers, not based on the residents,” Mario Rivas, 35, of Bell told the City Council. “I’m not a lawyer, but I advise you to make the right decision.”

After two hours in closed session, the council chose James M. Casso with the Meyers Nave firm as interim city attorney. Casso specializes in providing legal advice to cities, water districts and redevelopment agencies, according to the firm’s website, and has served as city attorney for La Puente and Pico Rivera.

Lee had served as Bell’s contract city attorney since the 1990s as a partner at Best, Best & Krieger. On Monday, the firm announced his departure and the termination of its contract with Bell.

After the meeting adjourned, Councilman Lorenzo Velez, who has criticized the high salaries, said: “We accomplished a lot. We got rid of Best, Best & Krieger.”

Last week, concerned by his association with Bell, the Downey City Council voted to terminate the city’s contract with Lee and with Best, Best & Krieger. In Covina, officials had said they were considering similar action, but Lee resigned his post there Tuesday. The city decided to stay with the law firm.

As Bell’s city attorney, Lee approved contracts that paid top administrators some of the nation’s highest municipal salaries. City Manager Robert Rizzo made nearly $800,000 a year. Police Chief Randy Adams earned $457,000, and assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, $376,288. All three have resigned.

The City Council considered, but did not approve, a contract with Urban Associates, which would have allowed Pedro Carillo to serve as interim city manager. Carrillo, who had been Rizzo’s assistant, is now the acting city manager. The city has not disclosed his salary despite several requests.

The council postponed the decision until its next meeting. “We’ll be having several firms battling for city administrative officer,” Velez said.