For Whom the Bell Tolls...
July 27, 2010 10:53 AM   Subscribe

With a population of 36,664 and 2.5 square miles in size Bell, California is number thirteen in the twenty-five smallest cities in the United States. Median annual household income is about $36,000; per capita income for the city is $9,905 with 24.1% of the population below the poverty line. Residents of this tiny city "have a higher property tax rate than homeowners in Beverly Hills." A recent L.A. Times investigative report has revealed that exorbitant salaries are being paid to city officials. Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo collects an annual salary of $787,637 with 12% increases scheduled every July. Assistant City Manager, Angela Spaccia collects $376,288 with a similar 12% annual pay increase. Police Chief Randy Adams who runs a 46-person department earns $457,000, which is 33% higher than that of his Los Angeles counterpart. And ... part-time city council members collect almost $100,000 a year each.* The District Attorney is investigating why the part-time council members take-home $8,083 per month while a $400 monthly stipend was expected.
"Rizzo, who has run Bell's day-to-day civic affairs since 1993, was unapologetic about his salary -- which is nearly twice as much as President Obama's reported salary of $400,000 a year.

'If that's a number people choke on, maybe I'm in the wrong business,' he told KTLA partner, The Los Angeles Times. 'I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I've done.'" *
posted by ericb (87 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
That Rizzo is a rat.
posted by gurple at 10:57 AM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Needless to say, people have been pissed.

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

At a contentious public council meeting on Monday "council members agree[d] to take $8,000 a year, and the mayor and vice mayor say they'll finish their terms without pay."*
posted by ericb at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2010


From Today's LA Times: Council members agree to take $8,000 a year, and the mayor and vice mayor say they'll finish their terms without pay.

From further down the article:
In agreeing to sweep back their salaries, Councilmen Luis Artiga and George Mirabal put themselves on par with Lorenzo Velez, who has been paid $673 a month since he was appointed to the council last summer. Velez said he was unaware his colleagues were making so much.
GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED
posted by carsonb at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2010


From the L.A. Times article to which casonb links:
"Earlier Monday, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown had subpoenaed hundreds of documents from Bell as part of his office's investigation into the high salaries."
posted by ericb at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2010


Funny how people who say "I could go into private business and make that money" rarely do. It's almost as if the perks of the job (I am looking at you, too, business and science faculty) make up for that imaginary pay check.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2010 [11 favorites]


The video of the meetings on the news this morning was remarkable. Note that despite the resignations, these officials are poised to collect yearly pensions in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. (IIRC, as high as 600k.) If I were one of these people, I'd be concerned for my personal safety. As noted in the FPP, Bell is most certainly not a wealthy area, and its residents are understandably riled up.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:09 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, show me a business that has the gross vs. net profit numbers of Bell, California while also paying their executives three quarters of a mil a year. Please, show me...cuz I will go start my own biz like that.
posted by spicynuts at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Collusions between local government officials who set each other's salary? Inconceivable.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a bizarre, bizarre story. Good God a-glory.
posted by kittyprecious at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2010


All you people up there in City Hall,
You're fuckin' it up for the people that's in the streets.
This is a song for the people in the streets,
Not the people City Hall.
All you motherfuckers in the streets it's time to rise up, up up up
Come along children and fuckin' rise!
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:12 AM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Don't worry. Give it a few years, deregulate the markets, and that $1.6 million will eventually trickle down to the common folks making $9,000 a year.

This is what Republicans actually believe.
posted by schmod at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2010 [20 favorites]


Funny how people who say "I could go into private business and make that money" rarely do. It's almost as if the perks of the job (I am looking at you, too, business and science faculty) make up for that imaginary pay check.

We in the nonprofit business love to talk about how we would make 3 times what we make now if we accepted corporate offers. Honestly, the phone's not ringing and I've tried.
posted by anniecat at 11:17 AM on July 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


You know, they have elections in Bell, just like everywhere else.

Bell is largely Hispanic, and in many communities like this Hispanics simply don't seem to represent themselves well. The reasons for this are complicated, topic for another discussion.

I am really glad to see these kleptocrats finally getting the attention they deserve.
posted by Xoebe at 11:18 AM on July 27, 2010


One detail about Rizzo that the excellent post left out is that he is contracted to get a pension of $884k+ per year even if he is sacked from his lucrative job.

Reuters:

If Rizzo leaves his job, which irate residents of Bell are demanding, he could draw $884,692 in his first year of retirement, according to her [Marcia Fritz, who heads the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility] calculations.

At age 62, when Rizzo could also begin receiving Social Security payments, his annual pension would rise to $976,771, topping $1 million two years later. If he lives to age 83, his annual payout would rise to $1.48 million.

posted by blucevalo at 11:18 AM on July 27, 2010




With the size of the balls on that guy, I think his private sector dream job might be sperm donation for women and couples seeking little corporate sociopaths of their very own.
posted by adipocere at 11:19 AM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Everyone is Rock-'em Sock-'em Robots.
posted by otto42 at 11:24 AM on July 27, 2010


Sounds like they'd be naturals on wall street.

Also, hang them from light posts. Anyone who claims being the manager of a small city is worth $800K is a fucking asshole and a crook. They're all crooks.
posted by maxwelton at 11:24 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


>You know, they have elections in Bell, just like everywhere else.

Ex-Bell cop alleges voting irregularities

Lawsuit claims off-duty officers in 2009 distributed absentee ballots to residents and told them how to vote.

posted by sideshow at 11:24 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not justifying their outrageous feeding at the public trough, but wondering if people realize that if they are not involved in their local government, then avarice will rule in many small fiefdoms. I also wonder how long this has been going on and if there will be some huge shortfall in th city coffers once Atty Gen Moonbeam gets through with the investigation that will leave other city workers without pensions/health care when they retire. Also on the list of things to look out for, dear citizens of Bell, CA, is to see that the outgoing city manager and other former (now that they've been shamed into resignation) council members don't have some kind of golden parachute that pays them humongo sums into the years beyond.

One stat I noticed that makes me think Bell is doing some things right: their cops to residents ratio is just over 1, while the rest of CA averages around 2.5:1000; similarly, Bell's crime right is at the worst stable and at best declining.

Better stats for Bell than the (imo) horrible wiki-page: City-Data/Bell
posted by beelzbubba at 11:25 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, is there no way to strip assholes like this of their exorbitant pensions on our dime? It seems insane to me that they can pad their pockets with no consequences.
posted by maxwelton at 11:25 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


You gotta hope that while getting the council members (whose salary is constrained by law) they find out what the quid-pro-quo was for that salary. I have difficulty believing that it's an accident.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:31 AM on July 27, 2010


...little corporate government sociopaths...

jeez...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:32 AM on July 27, 2010


So, is there no way to strip assholes like this of their exorbitant pensions on our dime? It seems insane to me that they can pad their pockets with no consequences.

I'm wondering about this, too. Atty. Gen. Brown has opened an investigation, as mentioned above. I wonder some public interest group also might not be able to file suit against these people for some kind of misuse of public funds or violation of a fiduciary duty of some kind, and claw back the pensions that way. However I know very little about the law in this area, and am probably not even applying those terms correctly (or at least not precisely.) As Bell made itself into a charter city a few years back, these abuses may not be easy to correct.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:34 AM on July 27, 2010


I would be interesting in tracking their political affiliations and donations. Also, they should end up in jail. This is crazy. But, no politics is as ugly as local politics.
posted by absalom at 11:35 AM on July 27, 2010


So, is there no way to strip assholes like this of their exorbitant pensions on our dime?

Bell citizens are trying to get Rizzo fired, but as I mentioned above, the unintended consequence is that he will be making even more fired than he would if he kept his job.
posted by blucevalo at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2010


maxwelton: Sorry, you said "pensions." I missed that part.
posted by blucevalo at 11:37 AM on July 27, 2010


I am really glad to see these kleptocrats finally getting the attention they deserve.

Heh, I like that word. Can we agree to never, ever use it again?
posted by jabberjaw at 11:38 AM on July 27, 2010


"Don't worry. Give it a few years, deregulate the markets, and that $1.6 million will eventually trickle down to the common folks making $9,000 a year.

This is what Republicans actually believe."


Since the market is not determining the salaries (the salaries are essentially legislated) this closer to what Democrats believe. From the Keynesian point of view, these high salaries can be viewed as good for the local economy since the money spent by Mr. Rizzo and friends will trickle into the coffers of local business, restaurants, massage parlors allowing those business to retain or hire additional workers. Mr. Rizzo's high salary is almost virtuous given the final effects. He should put in a pool with the most elaborate mosaic tiling Bell, California has ever seen and hire 20 local artisans to do the work.
posted by otto42 at 11:41 AM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wonder if there'll be a run on pitchforks, torches, feathers, and tar at the local Home Depot?

Or perhaps they could revive the riding-out-of-town-on-a-rail tradition. Seems called for.
posted by emjaybee at 11:42 AM on July 27, 2010


How about jail? Could you make that in jail?
posted by Eideteker at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"In agreeing to sweep back their salaries, Councilmen Luis Artiga and George Mirabal put themselves on par with Lorenzo Velez, who has been paid $673 a month since he was appointed to the council last summer. Velez said he was unaware his colleagues were making so much."

Velez for Mayor
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:46 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


How many of those city officials ran as tea baggers?
posted by crunchland at 11:47 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, is there no way to strip assholes like this of their exorbitant pensions on our dime?

Life sentences?

Seriously, though, isn't there some kind of law that says you can't earn or keep income that was established to have been acquired through a crime? These fuckers are all guilty of massive fraud; their pensions and previous earnings should be considered stolen property.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:48 AM on July 27, 2010 [4 favorites]



Since the market is not determining the salaries (the salaries are essentially legislated) this closer to what Democrats believe. From the Keynesian point of view, these high salaries can be viewed as good for the local economy since the money spent by Mr. Rizzo and friends will trickle into the coffers of local business, restaurants, massage parlors allowing those business to retain or hire additional workers. Mr. Rizzo's high salary is almost virtuous given the final effects. He should put in a pool with the most elaborate mosaic tiling Bell, California has ever seen and hire 20 local artisans to do the work.


You think that Democrats believe in trickle down economics? Really? And the word "Keynesian" doesn't mean what you think it means.
posted by stavrogin at 11:54 AM on July 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


Who was funding the salaries? Do they have a police department?

My town publishes the budget in the town newspaper. Did the people of Bell just have no idea their money was going to this? What is the tax rate there? Was the state of CA subsidizing this?

I've been really confused about those points. Maybe I am spoiled by my politically active town, but I don't see how this could happen if people in town were remotely interested in where their money was being spent.
posted by frecklefaerie at 11:55 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Haha, rtfa, freckles.
posted by frecklefaerie at 11:55 AM on July 27, 2010


Rizzo? Randy Adams? These are actual names if small town crooks?

Sometimes life likes to pretend its a Terry Pratchett paperback or something.
posted by The Whelk at 11:57 AM on July 27, 2010


"This council has compensated me for the job I've done."

Congratulations on being the best city officer in America.
posted by mreleganza at 11:58 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


cops to residents ratio is just over 1

That's a lotta cops.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:59 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huh... I'm sure I've read about this before somewhere – but where?

Oh yeah - it was here.
posted by koeselitz at 12:09 PM on July 27, 2010


I have to admit that I kinda have a half-boner imagining Bell, California as the bizarro American city where social workers make six figures.
posted by The Straightener at 12:11 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


cops to residents ratio is just over 1

That's a lotta cops.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:59 PM on July 27 [+] [!]


My bad, I rewrote an awkward sentence and forgot to put in the ratio of 1:1000> where the rest of the stae is 2.47:1000.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:14 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though, isn't there some kind of law that says you can't earn or keep income that was established to have been acquired through a crime?

I doubt it. Many wealthy families would have to be put in jail.

In America the best way to be successful is for your ancestors to rape and pillage the villagers, then you. Later inherit the money scot free.
posted by Sukiari at 12:16 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


How many of those city officials ran as tea baggers?

Given the area and the results of the 2004 & 2008 presidentials, I doubt if many of them ran on that platform. Of course, I am 1500 miles away, so I really don't have any idea. If it is anything like my overwhelmingly Democratic town, douchebags can be Democrats, too.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:22 PM on July 27, 2010


Interesting -- Rizzo lives in a home that was assessed last year as being worth $903,000. Where is it? Bell, California? No. It's located 30 miles south in Huntington Beach.

Rizzo also raises thoroughbreds on his horse ranch in Washington state.
posted by ericb at 12:22 PM on July 27, 2010


Bell was referenced in a Metafilter thread just a few weeks ago, I think in the "You can't fire a teacher in LA" thread. I remember reading that at the time and thinking "How on earth does this happen (and why does it never happen to me)?!?"

I thought the math couldn't work, but I guess it's "only" $44 per person. Although in a below-the-poverty line household, spending $100-200 a year for the salaries of people who aren't doing anything, apparently, is pretty fucking awful. There has got to be something fraudulent or criminal here, because I find it unfathomable that pay raises could escalate that quickly or that high and no one noticed or cared. The fact that one of the city council members didn't even realize he wasn't getting the insane salaries of his peers suggests that no one was looking at the books- or whoever was in charged of the city's accounting was in on the graft. Prison had better be in these people's future, or if it isn't then the people of Bell should "fix the glitch" some moonless night.
posted by hincandenza at 12:24 PM on July 27, 2010


How many cities across the U.S. have versions of this scenario playing out, right this moment, in local governments, school districts, what's it going to take for folks to melt down and take action? Their children starving in front of their eyes, their homes taken away to pay for pensions of administrators double, triple-dipping in shady schemes? Will it take a sudden devaluation of the dollar, and skyrocketing prices of commodities, for the shit to really hit the fan? Because as much as I'm afraid to say it, I think I can smell the the smoke from the flames just barely poking out over the horizon.
posted by dbiedny at 12:24 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sukiari: In America the best way to be successful is for your ancestors to rape and pillage the villagers, then you. Later inherit the money scot free.
I don't think being successful is worth having my ancestors rape me.
posted by hincandenza at 12:25 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Bell is most certainly not a wealthy area

Things can change in 20 years, but if they haven't rather dramatically improved since I lived nearby (a stone's throw away, on Santa Ana Street in Huntington Park), then this is an understatement.

I know the stats are in the FPP, and it's probably plain enough for everyone to see, but I just want to underscore the sheer ridiculousness of the compensation numbers that are being thrown around. To deserve that kind of money, they'd better have cut the city budget by 20 times what they've been paid while turning Bell into Santa Barbara.
posted by weston at 12:28 PM on July 27, 2010


And, regarding who will pick up the tab for his and the other pensions...
"...Bell is pooled with 140 similarly sized California towns and public entities like water and sanitation districts [all part of a pension risk pool created by CalPERS] , and together their taxes will be used to support Rizzo in the style to which Bell got him accustomed."*
posted by ericb at 12:29 PM on July 27, 2010


Rizzo? Randy Adams? These are actual names [o]f small town crooks?

Uh. Small town? Head to Google Maps and put "Bell, CA" in there.

Bell ain't a small town, it's a small (geographically) incorporated part of one of the largest cities in the world; Los Angeles. Bell is actually right on the left bank of the Los Angeles River. For people who don't know, the L.A. River is that concrete channel you see in a lot of movies. If you don't know what I'm referring to, re-watch Terminator 2. The L.A. river is the thing down which the big rig chases the motorcycle with the Governor.

So Bell is a small town in the same way that West Hollywood is a small town. Which is to say it is not.
posted by Justinian at 12:33 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is no employee in California that should receive a pension worth more than 200k a year (unless you are a CalTech professor that saves us from an asteroid or something)

I'm fairly pro-union / pro-government-employee but this is theft pure and simple and should be treated as such.

I hope there is a list that's getting checked right now.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


So Bell is a small town in the same way that West Hollywood is a small town. Which is to say it is not.


Pop. 36,552 and 2.48 sq.mi. says to me small city, not small town. Densely populated, small in size. Perhaps what the other poster meant was small time and not small town crooks.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2010


Are they 13th from the bottom or 13th from the top o' that list of 25?
posted by Mister_A at 12:49 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


How many cities across the U.S. have versions of this scenario playing out, right this moment, in local governments, school districts, what's it going to take for folks to melt down and take action?

Probably very few, but expect this case study to be brought up again, and again, and again in the coming election cycle as an excuse to raid education, and fire teachers or other civil servants. This story will be a goldmine for small-government conservatives, regardless of its applicability to other towns and regions.

A good manager can indeed be worth a huge salary. Although I doubt this was the case here, I genuinely do not understand the sudden outrage behind experienced public officials making over $100,000 per year, without paying attention to their job performance.

If you're a public school teacher in a troubled district, making $100,000, and your students are graduating illiterate, you probably deserve to be fired. However, if you're Jaime Escalante, making the same amount, and are producing results that no other teacher has been able to even approach, you deserve a raise.
posted by schmod at 12:52 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just want to chime in with this story:

The city of Tenney, Minnesota, experienced the largest per-capital case of embezzlement in state history a few years back. In a case of rampant nepotism, family members made up the entire city government, and both of them charged personal expenses to the city's credit at the local Cenex.

Yeah, both of them. After being tipped off by the gas station, the State of Minnesota audited Tenney, population 6, and caught its mayor and his wife (also the city clerk) charging personal expenses to the city account -- with the intention to pay it back, of course. $132.04 in Cenex charges and $1,737 missing from the City accounts, divided by six is $311 per person; embezzlement cases in larger cities rarely got that high, per-capita, due to the mathematics of the situation.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:59 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"'Just to put it in context, the general fund for the city of Bell is $15 million. So, Mr. Rizzo with his salary and compensation package, around $800,000 is about one-fifteenth of the budget for the city of Bell,' [California Assemblyman Hector] De La Torre said." *

As top Bell officials earned massive salaries, city workers were laid off -- "The city cut more than $800,000 from public safety and community services the same year that it gave City Manager Robert Rizzo an $82,000 raise."
posted by ericb at 1:11 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hernandez and other council members said the city was near bankruptcy when Rizzo came aboard 17 years ago. Since then, they said, he has put Bell on sound financial footing, with its general fund nearly tripling to about $15 million.

"Our streets are cleaner, we have lovely parks, better lighting throughout the area, our community is better," Hernandez said. "These things just don't happen, they happen because he had a vision and made it happen."


This caught my eye and I'm wondering if anyone can comment from experience on the City of Bell Then and Now. Did the locals get anything for their money?

(Also the lower tax rate of Beverly Hills should not be too surprising. Rich towns with expensive real estate frequently have lower rates than more average towns.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:12 PM on July 27, 2010


Bell is actually right on the left bank of the Los Angeles River.

And on the other side of the LA River, City of Los Angeles employees are getting furloughed as the city simply can't afford to pay them for a full work week. But I met quite a few who were in the office working on their "days off" because the work didn't stop.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:14 PM on July 27, 2010


A good manager can indeed be worth a huge salary. Although I doubt this was the case here, I genuinely do not understand the sudden outrage behind experienced public officials making over $100,000 per year, without paying attention to their job performance.

So, to you, it could be completely logical that the mayor a fucking small city with a population of 36k makes twice what the goddamn president of the USA makes?

Yeah, sure, a good manager can be worth that, why the hell not. Also, as a good network administrator in an office with a few thousand employees, I should be making about twice what Microsoft's top network engineer makes, right? It's totally logical.
posted by splice at 1:16 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


More fishiness:
"Former Councilman Victor Bello...resigned in August for undisclosed reasons .... Almost immediately after he left the council, Bello became the only full-time employee at the city food bank, the first person to hold the job .... Documents show that Bello was being paid $96,000 a year there, roughly the same salary paid to most council members. He has continued to be paid for sitting on four city boards, even though city resolutions say commissioners must be council members."
posted by ericb at 1:17 PM on July 27, 2010


There is no employee in California that should receive a pension worth more than 200k a year.

The limit should be 640K. That should be enough for anyone.
posted by All Out of Lulz at 1:22 PM on July 27, 2010 [17 favorites]


You could go into any small municipality in America and find similar if not quite-so-outrageous corruption. Political parties steer the general populace to invest its energy and emotions into national elections and scorn local politics. There is a reason for this.
posted by Faze at 1:28 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


A good manager can indeed be worth a huge salary.

Yes ... but let's put Bell salaries into perspective. The average salary for city manager jobs in the U.S. is $78,000.

I genuinely do not understand the sudden outrage behind experienced public officials making over $100,000 per year, without paying attention to their job performance.

Well, when the city manager of a small city of 36,000 is making way more money than the mayors of the largest 10 U.S. cities, people should be outraged.
New York City -- $195,000
Los Angeles -- $205,661
Chicago -- $216,210
Houston -- $176,762
Phoenix -- $87,996
Philadelphia -- $186,000
San Antonio -- $3,000
San Diego -- $100,464
Dallas -- $60,000
San Jose -- $115,000.
posted by ericb at 1:32 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm the mayor of my town, and by this guy's per capita payscale I should be making just south of $100,000. That would be an awesome raise from my current salary of $0.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:44 PM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


There was a story here some months ago about a neighboring city that fired its whole police force and fire department and contracted to receive these services from Bell. I'm not clear how the budget for this place really works.
posted by CCBC at 1:47 PM on July 27, 2010


Probably very few, but expect this case study to be brought up again, and again, and again in the coming election cycle as an excuse to raid education, and fire teachers or other civil servants.

Sorry, but "very few" is likely waaaaay off the mark. I've heard more than a few stories about public education cases in New York state, where a superintendent of a school system, making between $225-$300K a year, retires at full pension, and immediately gets another job as - yes, a superintendent, and the cycle starts all over. And let's not get started regarding the shadiness of things like NY police pensions and double dipping - like I said, this is going on all over the country, more frequently than the media will touch, and it's getting worse. And I'm pretty much on the other end of the spectrum from conservative, this is not about partisan politics (nor has it ever been), it's about those with the money, and the rest of us.
posted by dbiedny at 1:55 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


California’s $100,000 Pension Club.
posted by ericb at 1:56 PM on July 27, 2010


There was a story here some months ago about a neighboring city that fired its whole police force and fire department and contracted to receive these services from Bell.

Actually, weeks ago.
"Bell made headlines in recent weeks when the city of 37,000 agreed to take over operations of the neighboring city of Maywood, which fired most of its employees and disbanded its police department when it could not obtain insurance."*
posted by ericb at 2:00 PM on July 27, 2010


BASTA | The Bell Association to STOP the Abuse.

The residents/citizens are organizing. Good for them
posted by ericb at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2010


Thanks, ericb. But I'm still wondering how Bell can be reducing its workforce and taking on another city's operations at the same time. (Possibly more than one other city since, according to the article, Maywood used to police Cudahy.)
posted by CCBC at 2:23 PM on July 27, 2010


Pop. 36,552 and 2.48 sq.mi. says to me small city, not small town.

Yeah but even that is misleading. It's not like there's Los Angeles and then a bunch of low-population fields and forest and then Bell, CA with 36,500 people in 2.5 sq.mi. The border between Bell and L.A. and other incorporated areas are just arbitrary lines on a map. It's like if I drew a small square on map of Manhattan and called it "Bell, NY". Would it be a "small city"? Before I drew the line it was part of a huge metropolis. It's still part of a huge metropolis, it's just called something else.

Bell, CA is similar. It's part of Los Angeles, it's just inside an arbitrary box and called something else. Of course that arbitrary line can be exploited for personal profit as we can see.
posted by Justinian at 2:45 PM on July 27, 2010


Probably not coincidentally, "basta" (as in ericb's link above) is Spanish for "enough." As in, "Enough!"
posted by jingzuo at 3:11 PM on July 27, 2010


Stunning story.

My small town (pop. 20,000) has two weekly newspapers. I know how much the mayor's salary is, how much the city council members make and how much they pay the city planner ($50,000) Their salaries and the entire town budget show up in the newspaper all the time. Does Bell not have a city newspaper? Does no one attend the city meetings when the city budget is revealed? This stuff is not supposed to be secret-- it should be right there on the city web site for anyone to read.

In March 2000, Bell gained worldwide publicity, as the media announced that a shipment of 55 Oscar statuettes were stolen from a trucking company loading dock in the City of Bell.


I wonder if Rizzo and friends had anything to do with that?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:29 PM on July 27, 2010


Extortion by a syndicate who learned to beat the government, become the government. I'm positive it's a story oft-repeated in small cities and towns everywhere.
posted by eegphalanges at 3:31 PM on July 27, 2010


Pop. 36,552 and 2.48 sq.mi. says to me small city, not small town.

The list was compiled copied out of a book solely by geographic size. If you click through on the link to the "25 smallest cities" you'll see the comments are full of complaints about the list. For examples, Vergennes, VT is 2.5 sq. mile but has fewer than 3000 people - but it is an incorporated "city". Several cities on the list appear to be part of larger municipalities - I can't imagine anyone would name a fully independent area "Union City City".
posted by maryr at 3:41 PM on July 27, 2010


My public high school had a disproportionate amount of students tracked into non-existent programs for gifted or learning disabled students. I was daubed with the "gifted" brush, and my parents yearly had to sign something called an "IEP"--an Individualized Education Program--set up by a State Agency outside the school district which detailed the custom, individualized, attentive lessons I was to receive for my Special Needs status.

For every exceptional student with an IEP, the school would get a pile of extra money from the State for this custom learning, more than if stamped an average Joe. Except the IEP program in the school was bogus. I was in any normal classroom --same lessons, same homework, same exams--with any other student from the full range of the bell curve. Their IEP was my IEP. There was no oversight from the State Agency who provided the funds, because its members were made up of the school boards and administrators of the communities they served. Certain family names were well-distributed among many of the school districts the agency served: two brothers were principals of districts 10 miles apart. One adminstrator ran two districts.

And this was a town much like Bell, where the administrators of schools and government and police, etc., were all well off, but the townies on the wrong end of the tracks were destitute. Oxycontin, then heroin have ravaged the generation below me in the past 20 years. I wonder where all those drugs came from and who sold it to their children in a town with no convenient foreigners or brown people to blame? And they criminalize the dumb addicted kids, fine them, send to jail. More revenue.

The school district eventually did build a big-honkin' kajillion dollar new school building in what was certainly a fruitful bidding process for somebody's uncle.

I got my high school diploma and I got the hell out. Some little shits are still there, the king of pissant pile. I'm sure some kind of love and civic pride binds them together.

Poor Bell, California.
posted by eegphalanges at 4:49 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Secret Life of Gravy: this is one of the issues of being part of a megalopolis. (per Justinian's comment) The "local paper" is the LA Times. Add to that "65% of residents over 25 do not have a high school diploma" (per Wikipedia) and "per capita income is about $24,800," and you can see why there might not be that great citizen involvement. Happy to see about that BASTA group, tho.
posted by epersonae at 5:29 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


People complain about supposed opaqueness and corruption in my medium-sized Midwestern city, but we're a fucking paradise of transparency compared to the rest of the country (and I've lived enough elsewhere to know). Here, salaries would be determined via city staff preparing a review of peer cities, especially those in state, and this report would be entered into the public record at a city council meeting. We have actually just gone through this for city manager and police chief, and fire chief is in the offing.

It has been pointed out that Bell no longer has a newspaper or even much in the way of suburban-type coverage in the metro papers. This is exactly what happens without a fully participatory media. Beware the loss of the newspaper.

Even so, I'm astonished that nobody objected to this guy's salary, which had already hit $400K before the charter city move -- and that given the state law was intended to control salaries, nobody asked questions about the salary structure after that referendum. I was very impressed with the local protest organizer who said, "This is a test of our community." Smart fellow. Make him mayor.
posted by dhartung at 7:27 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Throw these fuckers in jail, stat.
posted by bardic at 8:40 PM on July 27, 2010


BASTA | The Bell Association to STOP the Abuse.

jingzuo : "basta" (as in ericb's link above) is Spanish for "enough." As in, "Enough!"

A good point, but with a little effort they could have been the Bell Association to STOP the Abuse Really Damn Soon. (or some other variant of *RDS)

Then the press could have called them "Inglorious"
posted by quin at 8:51 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Funny how people who say 'I could go into private business and make that money' rarely do. It's almost as if the perks of the job (I am looking at you, too, business and science faculty) make up for that imaginary pay check."

Money isn't the be all end all motivator for some people; Film at Eleven. Fulfilling a desire to serve the public (not that that is necessarily what these twits were doing) shouldn't automatically mean taking a pay cut.
posted by Mitheral at 10:08 AM on July 28, 2010


Yes ... but let's put Bell salaries into perspective. The average salary for city manager jobs in the U.S. is $78,000.

The city manager and the Mayor are not the same job. The city manager is hired by the city council (I hope) of which the mayor is usually a member. The city manager is more like CEO of a corporation where the major is more like one of the board of directors.

A good and useful comparision for their payscale is comparing the size of the city staff the manage and then finding a corporation with a similair nubmer of employees (or gross revenue) and comparing them. The jobs require many of the same skills. In any case the last two towns I lived in (about 55000) the managers both got paid about 200k. However one town had a staff of about 900 and the other a staff of about 420. There were a lot of differences in the two towns though to explain the size difference-neither was particularly overstaffed.
posted by bartonlong at 3:33 PM on July 28, 2010


The city manager and the Mayor are not the same job.

Very true.

Nowhere in this thread has anyone claimed that Rizzo was the mayor. He was indeed the 'city manager.' Hence the reference to statistics regarding "average salary for city manager jobs in the U.S. is $78,000."*
$787,000 salary for Bell city manager [Robert Rizzo] is outrageous, assemblyman says.
* -- If you click through the link you can see 'average salaries' for Mayor, Finance Director, Administrator, etc.
posted by ericb at 9:50 PM on July 28, 2010


* -- If you click through the link you can see 'average salaries' for Mayor, Finance Director, Administrator, etc.

my apologies, I just clicked the link initially and saw the listing for mayors salaries. In towns of this size the mayor is usually paid 0 salary and a small stipend to cover expenses related to the job.

BTW if I didn't make it clear this amount is absolutely ridiculous and there is probably something illegal going on at Bell.
posted by bartonlong at 8:31 AM on July 29, 2010




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