CITY HALL — Amid public outrage over the potential for record-high pensions to top Bell city officials — including former Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams — local residents can take solace in knowing they won't be on the hook.
The small working-class city of Bell has been embroiled in controversy since last week when the Los Angeles Times reported that City Manager Robert Rizzo earns an annual salary of nearly $800,000, while Adams makes $457,000 as the top cop there.
A spokesman for the California Public Employees' Retirement System, the pension giant cities across the state pay into, said Thursday that the agency plans to audit the city of Bell to ensure the record-high salaries being paid to top city officials fall within established guidelines.
"We have some serious concerns about these issues in the city of Bell and we actually are going to be auditing the city around the salaries and potential pensions," said CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco.
Even if Adams is eligible for the massive pension payouts, officials said it will be Bell, not Glendale, on the hook for making up the difference through increased annual payments to CalPERS.
"Bell is going to have a very big bill for the next 20 years to pay for these retirement benefits," said Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird.
The Bell City Council reportedly met on Thursday to discuss seeking resignations from the top executives. But even if they resign, Rizzo and Adams would be eligible for some of the highest pensions in the state.
Rizzo, 55, would be entitled to a $659,252 annual pension for the rest of his life, according to retirement calculations made by The Times that were reviewed by pensions experts.
Adams could be eligible for roughly $400,000 per year — about double what he would have received had he retired from Glendale last year. That's because Bell pension regulations, like those in Glendale and most California cities, tie retirement payouts to an employee's single highest salary.
Upon retiring from Bell, Adams would also be eligible for lifetime health, dental and vision insurance for him and his wife — benefits not provided to Glendale employees.
Pacheco said his agency plans to determine whether the pensions can stand.
"We will look at it closer and look at if the compensation is pensionable," he said.
The state pension system will hopefully reject the sky-high payouts, which he said are the result of a "gaming of the system," Starbird said.
"I hope they find a legal basis to reject them because they are unconscionable," he said. "They don't meet any ethical, professional or other ways of gauging reasonable salaries."
Pension reform advocates say the potential for such a massive spike in lifetime retirement benefits after just one year if service proves that the system needs to change.
"These high salaries and 'golden parachute' or 'soft landing' pension set-ups are I think really ethically inappropriate, particularly in this economy," said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform for the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonpartisan think tank. "The silver lining is, hopefully that because there is a scandal there will be some reform."