Museum changes volunteering policies

Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum officials said they have issued safeguards to prevent someone like ex-Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo from volunteering again.

Founder Natalie Kotsch said the museum is going to institute new policies about who can serve after the board met Jan. 13 and Monday to discuss the issue.

The museum's volunteer policies came under fire after officials found out Jan. 12 that Rizzo, a Huntington Beach resident, had been volunteering as a parking lot guard for several days. Rizzo service was publicized last week in the Los Angeles Times and in the Daily Pilot — publications affiliated by ownership with the Independent.

The nonprofit museum, run solely by volunteers, told Rizzo on Jan. 13 that his services monitoring its small parking lot at Olive Avenue and Fifth Street were no longer needed over worries that his service would stain the museum's reputation.

"The surfing museum deserves a better reputation than Robert Rizzo brings to any organization, even as a volunteer," Kotsch said. "We hope that this Robert Rizzo incident goes away and doesn't color the museum."

Rizzo, 56, was at the center of a scandal that rocked the city of Bell and the nation when The Times uncovered that city employees were making exorbitant salaries. Rizzo was pulling in about $800,000 a year in the cash-strapped city in Los Angeles County.

Rizzo had been volunteering as a security guard for the museum's five-stall parking lot. His services included removing orange cones placed in front of the stalls to ensure they were only used for museum business, Gary Sahagen, the museum's director at large, said.

Sahagen said he had told Rizzo he was welcome to volunteer any day he wanted. The museum, which is reliant on volunteers, was "lucky" to have him, he said.

Kotsch said she found out about Rizzo's volunteer work the night of Jan. 12. After meeting with the chairman of the board and several trustees, it was decided it wasn't appropriate for Rizzo to continue his service.

She said the museum's many volunteers have put a lot of work into making it a small but world-class museum, and Rizzo's presence brought down the caliber of the volunteers and "taints the crowd."

"I don't think it was ill-intentioned, but it was certainly a poor decision," she said.

Rizzo volunteered with the museum for almost a week, racking up about 20 voluneer hours.

Rizzo declined to comment last week about why he was volunteering or answer any other questions.

He was sentenced in August to 10 days of community service after pleading guilty to drunk driving at more than three times the legal limit.

Rizzo could be seen in sunglasses, a navy bucket hat and an M.P.P. Bodyguards Security jacket sitting with his arms crossed in front of the museum's colorful surfing mural in the parking lot.

The museum had issues safeguarding its five parking spaces for museum patrons, but Rizzo came up with the solution of blocking the stalls with orange cones, Sahagen said.

When patrons came to the museum, Rizzo moved the cone out of the way or reminded drivers that the parking lot is only for museum business in a nice, nonthreatening tone, Sahagen said.

"He's come up with some good ideas and implemented them — he's a self-starter," Sahagen said last week. "He's got a head on his shoulders."

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