The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) learned that City Council officials in Bell, California were receiving ludicrously high salaries in 2006, but failed to take action, according to documents released yesterday.
The Los Angeles Times reports that CalPERS learned that Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo had received a pay increase to $442,000 after he requested that his pension not be effected by the salary increase. This amounted to a 47% increase from the year before.
By the time the salary inflation was made public last month, Rizzo’s pay had subsequently climbed to nearly $800,000 a year.
Rizzo, who was arrested on March 6 for a DUI and was a no-show at his hearing yesterday, was just one Bell leader who was receiving at least twenty times the average salary, compared to similar positions in other cities.
The CalPERS documents also show that the fund’s employees knew about the other salary hikes, but allowed them as “a one-time compensation adjustment,” though no follow-up audits were conducted.
CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco argued that Bell wasn’t supposed to be audited until five years later, and defended the fund’s failure to notify proper authorities: “We’re not part of that chain of command. It was the elected city officials who negotiated, saw and signed the salaries and who are accountable.”
California Attorney General Jerry Brown (D), who is also running for governor, took a different tack:
A 47% increase in salary should have set off alarm bells. That kind of jump in pay is shocking and completely unacceptable. CalPERS should have told someone, and the attorney general’s office would have been a good place to start.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney is investigating the city’s salary inflation, as well as allegations of voter fraud and possible conflicts of interest regarding local businesses. According to the Times, there are multiple instances where city officials did business with current and former city officials.