Earlier this summer a scandal erupted in the small, working class town of Bell, California. Three of Bell’s top officials were pulling down half-a-million-plus salaries, a feat the administrators accomplished by changing the city’s municipal charter status to bypass a state law that had imposed a limit on public salaries.
It turns out that these three were only the tip of the iceberg. This week Bell’s mayor and city council were arrested for raking in salaries between $100,000 to $400,000. Their work consisted of sitting on fake boards where a typical meeting consisted of an 8 minute roll call.
Much of Bell’s has come to light through the reporting of the LA Times.
As Daniel Foster at National Reviewwrites, it gets worse from here. Investigators found illegal loans, property tax raids, and bonds issued without voter approval. Bell’s government was a racket and the city could be headed for receivership.
What ended Bell Council’s plunder? It took years of “brazen and inept corruption, the stress of a recession, a statewide fiscal crisis, one anonymous tip, dogged reporting, and national publicity” for Bell’s citizens to march to City Hall.
With this insight, Foster raises a troubling paradox: the role crisis plays in bringing to light the causes of the crisis.
The former administrators will not receive severance packages but they will collect pension benefits.
Mr. Rizzo will collect $650,000 a year making him the highest-paid beneficiary in the state’s pension system.
What is interesting is how they got their pay raises. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Bell City Council exempted themselves from state salary limits when they placed “Measure A” on the ballot in 2005 to change the city to “charter status” in a special election that only attracted 400 voters. Since passage, salaries for council members, who serve part-time, shot up by 50 percent to at least $96,996 a year.
The reason for the sudden switch was a state law passed in 2005 that limited the salaries of council members in “general law” cities. A law that itself was prompted by outrage over the pay of officials in South Gate, California.
Even more interesting is that Measure A didn’t bypass salary limits for serving on city councils. Instead, it gets around the salary limit imposed on boards and commissions. The City Council members receive $150 a month for council service, and $7,873.25 a month for serving on the Planning Commission, Surplus Property Authority, and the Solid Waste Recyling Authority.