News  conference

Interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo, center, faces more questions from Bell residents and the media at a Friday afternoon session at which more hefty salaries and two other unexplained payments were made public. (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times / August 4, 2010)

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The city of Bell, already under fire for paying unusually high salaries to three top administrators, acknowledged Friday that two more officials were earning over $400,000.

The city's director of administrative services, Lourdes Garcia, was earning $422,707, and the director of general services, Eric Eggena, earned $421,402, officials said. Those amounts include salary, deferred compensation and some benefits, which city officials did not fully detail.

In addition, Bell's director of community services, Annette Peretz, earned $273,542, a deputy city engineer earned $247,573, the business development coordinator earned $295,627, a police captain earned $238,075 and a police lieutenant earned $229,992. Their names were not immediately released.

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The city's acting administrator released the compensation numbers at a raucous afternoon news conference that was interrupted several times by furious community activists. Los Angeles County prosecutors said they would add the salaries to their existing investigation into the city.

Documents obtained Friday by The Times also revealed that both Garcia and Bell's former assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia, had received additional payments of at least $100,000 beyond their salaries. The payments to Spaccia appear to have been a loan. The documents do not make clear whether Garcia was required to repay the money she received.

At the press conference, acting city administrator Pedro Carrillo said the city plans to launch a study of salaries to "make sure they are commensurate with experience" and job responsibilities. "We will take some very firm and bold moves," Carrillo added. "It could mean termination or reduction."

The city has been the focus of national attention ever since The Times revealed that City Manager Robert Rizzo was being paid $787,637 a year, Police Chief Randy Adams' salary was $457,000 and assistant city manager Spaccia's was $376,000. All three resigned amid public uproar.

For several weeks, Bell officials have refused to provide documents requested by The Times under the state Public Records Act, by community activists and by a sitting member of the city council.

Carrillo, who was appointed acting city administrator after Rizzo stepped down, acknowledged that the city had been slow to provide records. He apologized to residents, saying Friday marked a "new day."

Spaccia, the former assistant city manager, was given a $130,000 cash advance in March. A document signed by Rizzo says she is entitled to "an amount not to exceed $130,000." The amount plus interest was to be repaid no later than May 28, according to city records. Carrillo said he would investigate whether Spaccia had repaid the loan.

Another document shows the city gave a $100,000 payment to Garcia in March.

Carrillo said he has directed the city attorney to investigate the "propriety and legality" of both payments.

Neither Garcia nor Spaccia could immediately be reached for comment.

Prosecutors expressed shock at the latest developments.

"How can a city sustain itself with all these salaries? We're talking about millions of dollars," said Deputy Dist. Atty. David Demerjian. "Everyone in L.A. County is going to want to work for the city of Bell now."

Demerjian said investigators would look into the newly disclosed salaries and were also curious about the other payments to Garcia and Spaccia.

A city can make a loan or other outside payment to an employee only if there is a clear benefit to the public, Demerjian said. Sometimes municipal governments offer loans to candidates for top jobs to entice them to live in a city. Typically, such arrangements are made when a person is being asked to move to a city where housing might be out of the employee's price range. Bell, however, is one of the poorest cities in L.A. County, with a median household income of $40,556.

Demerjian noted that in January, Inglewood mayor Roosevelt Dorn pleaded guilty to a public corruption charge stemming from a $500,000 city loan he had received.

In addition to prosecutors, officials from other cities said they were stunned by the additional large salaries paid by Bell. "That's outrageous," said Ken Pulskamp, city manager of Santa Clarita and president of the city manager's department of the League of California Cities. "People have been digging around for these salaries for weeks, and the public is only just learning about this now?"

Pulskamp said that outside of Bell and the city of Vernon — which paid a former city administrator more than $500,000 before he was indicted — salaries of more than $300,000, let alone $400,000, are almost unheard of.

"And here in Bell are two other department heads making over $400,000," he said.

"I haven't seen any justification. It's a small city, it's a poor city, and this just defies common sense."

Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) said the numbers underscore the need for more transparency when it comes to municipal salaries.

"It just makes you wonder what the next shoe to drop will be in Bell. Again, the gravy train was not just for the top people," he said. "How could you keep these kind of salaries a secret? I think $400,000, $300,000 salaries for middle managers is the explanation."