Bell, Calif., mayor apologizes for salary controversy
Beset by a controversy over unusually high wages paid to some former employees, the mayor of Bell, Calif., has apologized to residents and agreed not to run for reelection. The apology came three days after the city council accepted the resignations of City Administrative Officer (CAO) Robert Rizzo, Assistant CAO Angela Spaccia and Police Chief Randy Adams, who together had been drawing salaries of more than $1.6 million.
Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez announced at a meeting Monday, during which council members also voted to cut their own salaries, that he would no longer accept any salary from the city, and that he would leave office when his term expires in March. “Since my first day as mayor, my priority has been to make Bell a city its residents can be proud to call home,” Hernandez said in a statement. “To the residents of this great city, I apologize that the council’s past decisions with regard to the indefensible administrative salaries have failed to meet that test. We know we have hard work ahead of us to restore Bell’s trust even as we work to maintain the unparalleled city services that our families depend on.”
Hernandez also said he would cooperate fully with an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney and the California Attorney General into the salaries. “We must restore Bell’s pride in our city, and that requires a full, transparent and deliberate review of the city’s actions,” Hernandez said.
The apology was a departure from Hernandez’s initial reaction when the Los Angeles Times began reporting on the three outgoing employees’ salaries. The L.A. Times had reported Rizzo’s salary as topping more than $787,000 a year, more than President Obama’s annual pay. “Unlike the skewed view of the facts the Los Angeles Times presented to advance the paper’s own agenda, a look at the big picture of city compensation shows that salaries of the city manager and other top city staff have been in line with similar positions over the period of their tenure,” Hernandez said in a statement on the same day that Rizzo, Spaccia and Adams resigned. “A full, fair reporting of the facts would also have demonstrated that CAO Rizzo delivered Bell from a $20 million shortfall to 15 years of balanced budgets. As the Times reported in 1993, Mr. Rizzo began his career at Bell as the lowest paid city manager in the county and over the course of his long career at Bell has averaged approximately $260,000 in annual salary.”
Hernandez went on to say, “CAO Rizzo leaves Bell in a far better position than he found it 17 years ago.” Download all of Hernandez’s statements on the city’s salary controversy.