California Official's $800,000 Salary in City of 38,000 Triggers Protests

By Christopher Palmeri
Jul. 20, 2010

Hundreds of residents of one of the poorest municipalities in Los Angeles County shouted in protest last night as tensions rose over a report that the city’s manager earns an annual salary of almost $800,000.

An overflow crowd packed a City Council meeting in Bell, a mostly Hispanic city of 38,000 about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, to call for the resignation of Mayor Oscar Hernandez and other city officials. Residents left standing outside the chamber banged on the doors and shouted “fuera,” or “get out” in Spanish.

It was the first council meeting since the Los Angeles Times reported July 15 that Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo earns $787,637 -- with annual 12 percent raises -- and that Bell pays its police chief $457,000, more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck makes in a city of 3.8 million people. Bell council members earn almost $100,000 for part-time work.

City Attorney Edward Lee said the council members couldn’t discuss salaries in public without advance notice. The council then adjourned for a private session. About an hour later, the council members returned, and Hernandez read a statement saying the city would prepare a report on the salaries and seek public comment at the next council meeting, scheduled for Aug. 16.

Residents shouted in protest. Lee said he would have the room cleared if people continued to speak out of line. Police Chief Randy Adams said the fire department wanted to end the meeting because the crowd outside was blocking the door.


‘Obscene Pay’

De La Torre said that after his bill was passed, Bell’s City Council voted to operate under its own charter, rather than adhere to state laws on how cities should be run.

“It seems obscene to me,” De La Torre said in a telephone interview. “People making $30,000 a year are paying taxes so that their council members can make $80,000.”

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