Become a City Manager, pay yourself $1.5 million a year, go to jail for six years, keep your pension

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RIZZOIn 2010, Robert Rizzo, the Chief Administrative Officer of Bell, CA became the poster boy for local officials who rob taxpayers blind and get away with it because local news is the least-read section of the paper.

But when abuses reach a certain mass, even the sleepiest citizens and most liberal newspapers wake up. In this case, credit belongs to the Los Angeles Times. In 2010, they reported that Rizzo had a salary of $787,000, the assistant city manager was paid $376,000, and the police chief was paid $457,000.  This, in a town of only 36,000. Not surprisingly, the citizens packed a city council meeting and forced Rizzo and his friends to resign.

How did Rizzo’s compensation get so overblown? Rizzo joined Bell in 1993 for a salary of $72,000. Over the years, the city council continued to give him incremental raises, the kind that usually get a paragraph way back in the local news section of the paper, which almost nobody reads. By 2010, his compensation package had become almost as large as his ego and his suit size.

Despite being caught with his hands in a very large cookie jar, Rizzo is not big on apologies. Last year, he told a reporter “If that’s a number people choke on, maybe I’m in the wrong business. I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I’ve done.” Later, when his benefits were factored in, it became clear that Rizzo’s total compensation was over $1.5 million a year.

Based on his $800,000 salary, when Rizzo resigned his pension was originally valued at over $600,000 a year. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System didn’t like that number any more than you do, so they cut it to $50,000. But when he challenged the pay cut last January, CalPERS restored it to $116,000.

Then, on October 3 when Robert Rizzo pleaded no contest to 69 corruption charges, he agreed to testify against his former assistant city administrator, Angela Spaccia.  He will have to repay Bell somewhere between one to three million dollars in restitution. His sentence is likely to be 10 – 12 years, which usually works out to half that length.

So is justice served? Not completely. Because of a quirk in the law, elected city officials who are convicted of felonies lose their pensions. But not appointed officials like Rizzo. Today, Rizzo is 59.  Assume he gets out of prison six years from now, at 65. For the rest of his life, he will receive a pension of $116,000, plus whatever is in his 401(k), which had a balance of approximately $1 million at last count.

You may be wondering what kind of city council would let this kind of abuse happen on their watch. In a city the size of Bell, the maximum legal salary for a part-time council member is $8,076 a year. By paying themselves to sit on different boards that almost never met, they raised their salaries to nearly $100,000 a year. Last March, five former Bell city council members were convicted on a variety of corruption charges.

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-adv-rizzo-wealth-20131101,0,466737.story#axzz2jbozV47t
http://news.lalate.com/2010/07/23/robert-rizzo-resigns/
http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-bell-spaccia-20131108,0,7139756.story#axzz2kH0vOP8B
Photo: w.usatoday.com%252Fstory%252Fnews%252Fnation%252F2014%252F04%252F16%252Fbell-california-corruption-robert-rizzo-sentenced%252F7788143%252F%3B534%3B401
 
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