Mayor of Calif. city to stop taking high salary

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Cristina Garcia of the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse is interviewed outside city hall Friday in Bell, Calif. (CHRIS PIZZELLO ~ Associated Press)

BELL, Calif. -- The mayor of Bell apologized Monday for the excessive salaries paid to city officials and said he will step down after completing his term without pay.

Mayor Oscar Hernandez said in a statement posted on the Bell city clerk's website that the salaries were indefensible.

Four of the five members of the city council earn about $100,000 a year for running the blue-collar city of about 40,000 people.

The city's chief administrative officer was earning nearly $800,000 a year before he resigned last week.

Hernandez last week defended the city's salaries.

He said he will not collect any pay for the remainder of his term, which expires in March.

Earlier in the day, the city said in a statement that the city council intended to drastically reduce their pay at meeting Monday night.

Bell's city manager, police chief and assistant city manager all resigned last week, days after it was revealed they were making salaries totaling $1.6 million a year.

The six-figure salaries at city hall have prompted backlash from the community and investigations by the California attorney general and county district attorney.

Bell is southeast of Los Angeles. About 17 percent of its residents live in poverty.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a candidate for governor, said he had subpoenaed hundreds of records from the city. He demanded to see employment contracts within two days to determine whether to file any charges.

"The real question is what were they thinking?" Brown said. "What was the atmosphere in Bell that would allow this and make it plausible at least to the members of the city council?"

The grassroots Bell Association to Stop the Abuse had threatened to recall the council members if they didn't resign or slash their own pay.

The salaries exploded into public view after a Los Angeles Times investigation, based on California Public Records Act requests, showed the city payroll was bloated with six-figure salaries:

* Chief administrative officer Robert Rizzo made $787,637 a year, getting a series of raises since being hired in 1993 at $72,000. President Barack Obama makes $400,000.

* Assistant city manager Angela Spaccia made $376,288 a year.

* Police chief Randy Adams earned $457,000 -- $150,000 more than Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck.

Monday's statement on the city website said Mayor Oscar Hernandez, vice mayor Teresa Jacobo and Councilmen Luis Artiga and George Mirabal would have slashed their salaries at a meeting last Thursday but could not because the issue had yet to be placed on the council's agenda.

Councilman Lorenzo Velez makes about $8,000 a year, in line with the part-time pay for council members of similar-sized cities. He urged his colleagues to reduce their salaries to that level.

Nearly 300 protesters marched to the homes and workplaces of the mayor and council members during a raucous protest Sunday. Some carried signs and wore T-shirts proclaiming, "My city is more corrupt than your city," and passed out fliers urging people to attend the council meeting.

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