The Corner

For Whom Bell Tolls

Former Bell, California chief administrator Robert Rizzo is taken into custody.

In the last issue of National Review, I wrote about my day in Bell, California, where a cast of crooked pols had spent years wringing the working-class city dry while its residents slumbered in ignorance:

Bell, Calif.:population 36,664, and the poster city for fiscal dysfunction and bad government in the poster state for fiscal dysfunction and bad government.

It is a place barely two miles square — a half dozen stoplights in any direction and you’re somewhere else — a poor, predominantly Hispanic community like dozens of others in Southern California, its people eking by on a per capita income of $24,800.

So it must have come as something of a shock when, earlier this summer, Bell residents learned from a report in the LA Times that their top bureaucrat, city administrator Robert Rizzo, was earning $1.54 million annually in total compensation, while enjoying 143 (paid) sick and vacation days per year. And that Rizzo’s assistant, Angela Spaccia, was pulling down $845,960 a year. And that police chief Randy Adams, overseeing a department of 24 that had recently slashed its training budget in half, was earning $770,046.

The Times report set off a chain reaction of outrage, awakening a populace that had just a few short years ago voted in abysmally low numbers to let the bureaucrat-barons of Bell write their own charter bypassing the limits on municipal-service compensation enshrined in California state law. And as the people of Bell set upon council meetings calling for firstborns, the L.A. County district attorney launched an inquiry and assembled a grand jury, and the Times thumbed deeper into the city’s books.

It turned out that Rizzo, Spaccia, and Adams were just the scum atop the cesspool.

The city was paying seven other mid-level functionaries salaries ranging from $229,992 to $422,707, while mayor Oscar Hernandez and three part-time council members were earning nearly $100,000 each, mostly for sitting on an array of dummy boards whose meetings consisted of little more than calls to order and adjournment.

And it only gets worse from there. But the bill may finally have come due for Bell’s city fathers, as the Los Angeles Times reports that at least eight Bell city officials were arrested this morning as part of an L.A. County District Attorney sweep. Among those apprehended were Bell mayor Oscar Hernandez, who refused to resign amid public outcry despite his key role in overseeing this municipal syndicate.

Apparently, ol’ Oscar couldn’t be bothered to answer his door, so the police used a battering ram.

Three current and two former city council members were also taken into custody.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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