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For residents of impoverished, defrauded Bell, Calif., it's payback time

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Robert Rizzo, the former city manager, was paid $787,637 – nearly twice President Obama’s salary and the highest among municipal employees in the state. Mr. Rizzo is accused of writing his own employment contracts, which were never approved by the city council. The former city manager also is accused of giving nearly $2 million in unauthorized loans to himself and others.

Angela Spaccia was paid $376,288 annually as assistant city manager, and four of five council members earned more than $100,000 a year. An audit by the California State Controller's Office last summer found that Bell illegally overtaxed residents and businesses to the tune of $5.6 million.

'New wave of transparency'

“The good news is that [the Bell scandal] has served us well in that everyone is having discussions on capping local salaries and how to reform pensions,” says Ms. O’Connor. “It has created a new wave of transparency and real, substantive reform. It’s not just optics.”

California’s reforms include an online, searchable database of local salaries and compensations, as well as new state laws that limit such salaries. Several investigations of other communities are pending as well. O’Connor and others say such corruption is the tip of the iceberg, suggesting that it has increased with the severe demands of modern life alongside the demise of local newspapers.

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