Paul Jacob

Does your city manager make $800,000 a year? Before you answer, you might want to check. Maybe file an open records request with your city.

You might get the same run-around citizens in Bell, California, received, when they filed just such a request.

Robert Rizzo is — er, was — Bell’s City Manager. His salary from the city, before he resigned last week, came to a sum total of $784,637. (And no sense.)

When Nestor Valencia, an unsuccessful city council candidate, made an open records request earlier this year, he was informed the documents would cost $463. Valencia, clearly no politician, decided not to pay such a jacked-up price. He gave up.

Before that, Roger Ramirez asked Bell City Hall for salary information, including the city manager’s. He received a one-page memo from City Clerk Rebecca Valdez informing him that Rizzo’s annual salary was $185,736 and that city council members were paid $8,076.

But that wasn’t the full answer. City Manager Rizzo received more than four times that much in annual compensation from the city and four of the five city council members, who after all vote on these things, were bringing in over $100,000.

For part-time work!

When the Los Angeles Times reported the true, full salary figures for the city manager, the police chief ($475,000) and the assistant city manager ($375,000), the 36,000 citizens of Bell, California, erupted in anger.

Residents stormed council meetings calling the big pay packages “ridiculous” and demanding that these three top officials be let go. The rest of the state and nation, upon hearing the story, massively felt their pain. California Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, called the compensation “shocking and beyond belief.”

The whole question of whether salaries in this particular section of the stratosphere were permissible under state law is now being investigated. A law passed in 2005 limited what general law cities like Bell can pay.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.