Maywood, whose political marriage to the city of Bell made national headlines, is considering a quickie divorce.
In late June, Maywood fired most of its workers and turned over operations to its neighbor city. But the scandal over eye-popping salaries in Bell has become a “distraction” and Maywood leaders say they may look for someone else to run their affairs.
“We’re caught in a situation where we need to move forward,” said Maywood Councilman Felipe Aguirre. “We don’t want to be distracted by things that are not germane to our city.”
Aguirre said doesn’t want Maywood to “become a laughing stock of a city,” a term used to describe Bell by one of its own embarrassed council members.
On Monday night, the Maywood City Council met before an overflow crowd of upset residents waving signs criticizing the Bell partnership before adjourning to a closed session to try to sort things out. By late in the evening, the council had made few decisions.
Late Monday night, the City Council decided it would select from among five interim city manager candidates on Thursday. The interim city manager will then lead efforts to hire a new interim city attorney and to pursue contracting municipal services elsewhere.
Council critics and supporters muttered snide comments to each other in Spanish and English. A few residents supportive of the Maywood council majority expressed anger at the Bell residents who showed up at the meeting.
“Go to your own city to do your protest,” one Maywood resident said in Spanish amid a crescendo of catcalls and applause. “Mind your own business!”
Maywood officials said they had no idea about Bell’s problems when they agreed to hire the city.
“We were not aware of these salaries. They were a complete surprise to me,” said Maywood Mayor Ana Rizo. “I’m still digesting it all.”
The Maywood City Council is also expected to replace Angela Spaccia, an interim city manager they borrowed from Bell. Spaccia was being paid $376,288 a year as an assistant Bell city manager, much more than most city managers. When her benefits package is added up, Spaccia’s salary more than doubles, to $845,960.
But that pales in comparison to Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, whose $787,637 salary swelled to more than $1.5 million counting vacation days, sick days and benefits. The enormous salaries paid to Bell administrators provoked a collective shudder throughout county and state governments.
Many sought to distance themselves from the beleaguered city as politicians took turns expressing their disgust at the lucrative contracts.
But no city was as intimately tied to Bell as Maywood. Aguirre and other elected leaders there said the city would have faced bankruptcy if it didn’t outsource all its services. It was, by all appearances, the first time a city had done that, not only in the state, but in the nation. “Bell saved our skin,” Aguirre said.
Maywood residents have ratcheted up their criticism of elected leaders for jettisoning the city’s troubled police department, firing workers and outsourcing nearly all municipal operations to Bell.
Aguirre said that if Maywood ends the relationship with Bell, it could contract with another city, the county or maybe even a private agency.
“Things are getting very, very complex,” he said. “We have to deal with issues affecting Maywood.”
The city did keep some employees when they outsourced most city functions to Bell and police duties to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. But those workers were hired on a contract basis. Aguirre said he doesn’t want them to lose their jobs again.
“We had to let a lot of people go on June 30, and it hit hard,” he said. “We can’t let the employees suffer from an uncertainty that will affect their work. And to me, it definitely has affected their work.”
Unlike Bell, which on the surface had seemed a stable, politically calm city, Maywood’s last five years have been marked by all manner of political drama — from recalls to a city clerk accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill Aguirre. In early 2006, a newly elected Aguirre called Maywood a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants, provoking sometimes fierce debates among the city’s overwhelmingly Latino residents.
Councilman Thomas Martin said he thought the outsourcing of municipal functions and jobs to Bell was a blunder.
“My concerns have always been that if Bell came in, or another city, it says that our city itself is not really independent anymore,” Martin said. “It sent the message that we’re dependent on another city. I just think the whole thing was a mistake from the beginning.”