The average income for residents of Bell hovers around $24,800, $8,000 less than the national average. In addition, public debt per capita is $1,972, up from $599 just six years ago. Yet in this town, the city's administrators are pulling down salaries of hundreds of thousands with double-digit raises every year:
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.
It's so utterly ridiculous: you have people in Bell making $30,000 and paying taxes so that their own government officials can make ten times that much. Luckily, people are standing up. One resident founded the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, a group now calling for an independent audit of city salaries and contracts.
Hopefully the upswing in public engagement and interest in accountability will make a real difference in Bell--and in communities like it all across the country.