Bell council seeks resignations of 3 city officials

Bell City Council members are seeking the resignations of the city manager and two other top officials amid growing public outcry over salaries that appear to be among the highest in the nation, according to three sources close to the discussions.

The embattled council directed its attorney to immediately begin negotiating with the three.

At a closed-door meeting Monday night, as hundreds of residents protested outside, council members also discussed reducing their own pay. Most of them make $100,000 a year.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has inquired about the salaries.

Resigning would make City Manager Robert Rizzo, Police Chief Randy Adams and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia eligible for lucrative pensions. But the three also have contracts that protect them from being fired without cause.

As a result, unless they agree to resign, the city would face the prospect of buying out their contracts, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional payments.

None of the three officials could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Rizzo earns nearly $800,000 a year, making him the highest paid city manager in California and possibly the nation. Adams makes $457,000 — 50% more the Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck — and Spaccia makes $376,288, more than the top administrator for Los Angeles County.

The salaries, revealed by The Times last week, sparked protests in the small, predominantly working-class town southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition that they not be named because of personnel rules, said attorneys for the city are in talks with attorneys for the three administrators.

They also said council members are considering reducing their salaries. One source said the council is considering a 20% reduction, but others said no number has been decided upon.

Whether those moves will cool the anger of many Bell residents is unclear. L.A. prosecutors are investigating whether the current council salaries violate a state law that regulates how much council members are paid.

Council members in cities similar to Bell in size make an average of $4,800 a year, prosecutors have noted.

“The city lost a lot of money and lost a lot of trust,” said Ali Saleh, a member of Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse, a community group that formed after the salaries became public.

Saleh, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2009, said Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia should resign immediately and the council should take a sizable pay cut.

The City Council has asked its staff to study pay structures at other charter cities and report back by Monday.

Some activists have called for an outside investigation or audit of the city’s salaries. At least one council member said he was unaware of the pay levels for senior administrators until he read about them in The Times.

Rizzo’s salary has grown steadily over the years, once going up 49% in a single year. His current contract calls for 12% pay hikes every July.

He defended his pay, as did Mayor Oscar Hernandez, who said the town was on the brink of bankruptcy when Rizzo was hired in 1993. He said Rizzo quickly turned the town’s finances around.

The council has increased its own compensation by paying members for serving on the boards of city agencies. City records show that council members received $7,873.25 a month for sitting on those boards.

One council member, Lorenzo Velez, said he was “in shock” when he learned of his colleagues’ pay. He said he has been getting a salary of $8,076 a year — $90,000 less than his colleagues.

Saleh, the community activist, said he is skeptical that the council didn’t know about the salaries, noting that the contracts had to be approved by the body.

“There should be a deeper investigation into the money that has gone out,” he said.

Times staff writer Jeff Gottlieb contributed to this report.