Making twice as much as the President of the United States, City of Bell, Calif., politicians voted themselves some scandalous salaries and guaranteed annual raises. Now forced to resign, some Bell politicians might still be on the hook for outrageous pensions.
City of Bell, Calif.: Blue Collar all the Way
As of 2008, City Data revealed that Bell has a population of about 36,700. With an estimated per capita income of approximately $13,244 in 2008, the city is primarily a blue collar locale.
It is noteworthy that about 91 percent of residents self-identify as Hispanic; in excess of 10 percent are unemployed, and about 35 percent have a high school diploma or higher. More than 53 percent of residents are foreign-born, with 51 percent naming Latin America as their place of origin.
It is fair to say that the City of Bell is poorer than its neighboring locales. In fact, a drive through the neighborhoods reveals older cars, overgrown lawns, chain link fences and crumbling sidewalks.
Corrupt Politicians or Just a Salaries Scandal?
Hardly a paradise, it is curious that the city manager makes roughly $800,000 a year. Add to this the guaranteed annual raise of 12 percent – as reported by the Los Angeles Times – as well as a police chief salary of $457,000, and these figures are in stark contrast to the per capita income of the average Bell resident.
The city manager initially started out at a modest $72,000 a year in 1993. By 2004, he more than tripled his salary. By 2004, his compensation went up to $442,000, which exceeds the mandated remuneration of $400,000 that the United States President enjoys.
Although California law limits the amount of money that public servants may be paid, the City of Bell voted to operate under a charter which exempts it from this provision. In fact, the 2005 Measure A was the sole occupant on a special elections ballot which elicited the low voter turnout of only 390 souls, as counted by the Times. Some 336 voters approved the designation of a charter, but there was no mention of salaries.
Politicians Out, Pensions In?
Southern California Public Radio reports that – amidst a throng of angry Bell residents demanding rolling heads over the salaries scandal – a closed-door meeting resulted in the resignation of the city manager, the assistant city manager and the police chief. Due to the length of “service” to the city, at least the city manager can look forward to a lifelong pension totaling $650,000 a year. The other ousted politicians will also most likely receive their pension dollars.
Now in the crosshairs of the electorate is the city council. Already there is talk that they will meet to discuss their own – rather exorbitant – salaries. Gubernatorial-hopeful and current Attorney General Jerry Brown is rattling sabers and vowing to investigate; it is unclear if he has any legal footing to bring corruption charges or strip the ousted politicians of their pensions.