Calif. City Leaders' Staggering Salaries Probed

Bell Family Holiday Parade & Festival
It was good to a top official in the small city of Bell, Calif., - population 37,000.

At least, it was until now.

Outrage is sweeping through recession-hit California as reports of how Bell's leading government officials have been cashing in big on the backs of the struggling city.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Bell's Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo was earning $787,637 Police Chief Randy Adams was earning $457,000 a year, 50 percent more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck; and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia was earning $376,288, more than most city managers.

The Bell City Council has ordered its staff to look into city salaries after reports that some officials are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

City councilmembers, who themselves make $100,000 each, have ordered the city's attorney to negotiate resignation and severance for three top officials, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy. They'll still be eligible for big pensions, but their contracts prevent them from being fired without cause.

Council members in similarly sized cities make an average of $4,800 a year, say prosecutors.

The district attorney's office is investigating to see if the salaries violate California law.

The council ordered the report Monday night at a meeting where hundreds of irate residents shouted at their leaders, threatened a recall and demanded tougher action.

They called for the firing of Rizzo and other city officials.

"I'm very angry," Leticia Aquino told the Times after the meeting. "I literally have to work 24 hours to pay their salaries."

Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez defended the salaries to the Times. "Our city is one of the best in the area. That is the result of the city manager. It's not because I say it. It's because my community says it."

Hernandez and other council members claim the city was near bankruptcy when Rizzo came aboard 17 years ago.

"Our streets are cleaner, we have lovely parks, better lighting throughout the area, our community is better," Hernandez told the Times. "These things just don't happen, they happen because he had a vision and made it happen."

The City of Bell is located about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. It's population 90 percent Latino and 53 percent foreign-born with half the per capita income of the U.S.

"The city lost a lot of money and lost a lot of trust," Ali Saleh, a member of Bell Association to Stop the Abuse told the Times.