Citizens of the City of Bell responded vociferously to the Los Angeles Times article revealing that top city officials pocketed outrageous salaries. The Times is not letting up on the story. Not only was there a follow-up story on the most recent city hall meeting on Wednesday, but two columns, one by Steve Lopez and one by James Rainey, on the Bell situation ran the same day.
Now comes the news that I touched on in my column on Bell last week: what Robert Rizzo, the nearly $800,000 a year Bell city manager, pockets to head out the door. According to the Times, Rizzo would command a minimum pension of $600,000 the first year (increasing dramatically over time) for the rest of his life.
Other estimates have Rizzo bringing in over $1 million a year in pension a decade from now.
Rizzo told the Times reporters who broke the story that for those people who choke over his salary, he can make that kind of money in the private sector. It would be nice to find out if that were true, or some smart-aleck response to the reporters (the latter is a good bet), but with a $600,000-plus a year pension, I don’t think he’ll bother testing the theory.
Many local governments pay top administrators a handsome retirement based on the employee’s highest salary. Rizzo would become the highest paid retiree in the CalPERS system if he retires. He would replace another city manager, Bruce Malkenhorst, former city manager of Vernon, who pulls down over $509,000 each year.
James Rainey asked a good question in his column: Where else is this kind of outrageous behavior going on? He noted that with the cut back in media and reporters who have the time to dig into official records, many stories are going unreported.
In one way, the Rizzo pension could be money well spent. Not for the average citizens of Bell, who have every reason to be upset, but for the cause of pension reform.
As I stated in my column last week when the story of the Bell city salaries broke, Rizzo could become the poster child for pension reform. He has achieved that status.
The concern over high salaries and related pensions will continue to grow. Groups like the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility will use the example of the Bell officials to push their reform proposals.
In the end, these extravagant salaries and pensions may spur a revolt, which could save taxpayers across the state millions.