Bell official to lose job in leadership shake-up
One of the top-ranking executives under former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo has been put on notice that she will be terminated as part of a leadership shake-up in a town that has been pushed to the financial edge by a still-unfolding public corruption case.
Lourdes Garcia, who had earned $422,000 a year as one of Rizzo’s trusted hands, becomes the latest Bell official to be forced out in the small, working-class city.
Rizzo, his chief assistant, Angela Spaccia, and five former City Council members are facing felony corruption charges, accused of looting the city treasury to pay for their oversized salaries and generous retirement benefits.
Garcia is now a witness for the prosecution in the government’s case against her former bosses. She has been granted immunity in exchange for her testimony.
She was one of those drawing salaries that made them among the most highly compensated public officials in California, and perhaps the nation.
Besides her salary, Garcia has been receiving five vacation days and two sick days a month, which she could cash out. Rizzo was earning nearly $1.5 million in total compensation.
In a belt-tightening move last year, Garcia’s salary was slashed 61% to $165,000.
Her position as director of administrative services is being replaced with a finance director post as the city’s bureaucracy is being reorganized to a more traditional structure, said Arne Croce, Bell’s interim chief administrative officer.
Garcia, who has worked for the city for 20 years and was considered one of Bell’s financial chiefs, will not be a candidate for the new position.
“She really doesn’t possess the skill set or the background or the knowledge for the finance director position,” Croce said.
The City Council is expected to vote on the reorganization Tuesday.
“I think it’s very telling she doesn’t have the qualifications to be finance director,” said Councilman Nestor Valencia.
Garcia and another Bell employee who was given immunity, City Clerk Rebecca Valdez, were key witnesses against Rizzo at his preliminary hearing earlier this year.
Garcia testified about how, under the city administrator’s instructions, she helped hide Rizzo’s and the council members’ salaries.
She also testified that in response to a 2008 public records request, she typed a memo that inaccurately listed Rizzo’s salary as $185,736 a year and stated that council members were paid only $673 a month.
In reality, Rizzo earned $632,700, not counting the numerous weeks of vacation and sick leave he cashed out annually, and the council members made close to $100,000 a year.
Garcia also testified that she didn’t know it could be illegal when she agreed to Rizzo’s requests to draft loan agreements for city officials using their vacation and sick days as collateral.
Rizzo loaned $1.9 million in city funds to Bell workers, a local car dealer and a City Council member’s foundation. Garcia received two loans herself totaling $177,500.
She also testified that Rizzo received an $80,000 loan from the city, which he used as a line of credit.
Garcia’s attorney, George Bird, said his client never requested immunity but accepted it when the district attorney offered it. “I didn’t think she was guilty of any crimes,” he said.
The memo from Croce said Garcia would continue as a prosecution witness.
Once her job is abolished, there will be no position in Bell suitable for Garcia, Croce wrote. “This layoff results of a reorganization that is in the best interests of the city and is not punitive,” the memo states.
He also said she is entitled to $135,000 of accrued sick leave and vacation pay.
Garcia’s husband, Jose, will continue to work for the city’s code enforcement department after her last day Dec. 23.
He added some drama to the preliminary hearing when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Henry Hall ejected him from the courtroom after a bailiff said he was signaling his wife during her testimony.
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