BELL, Calif. - Under pressure from outraged residents and facing a probe by the California attorney general, the beleaguered City Council of this small blue-collar city voted Monday to slash its salaries by 90 percent, and two members said they will not seek re-election when their terms are up.
The council voted unanimously to set every member's salary at what Councilman Lorenzo Velez is paid - about $8,000 a year. The other four council members have been making about $100,000 a year for their part-time service on the City Council of this largely working-class city of about 40,000 residents southeast of Los Angeles. About 17 percent of Bell's residents live in poverty.
The move came days after a scandal erupted over the pay of council members and other city officials. The city manager, who made nearly $800,000, has already resigned. And Attorney General Jerry Brown on Monday revealed he had subpoenaed hundreds of city records.
Mayor Oscar Hernandez said he would take no salary for the rest of his term and apologized for the excessive pay given to top officials, an about-face after he last week defended salaries of the city manager and other staff.
"My priority has been to make Bell a city its residents can be proud to call home," Hernandez said in a statement published on the city clerk's website. "I apologize that the council's past decisions with regard to the indefensible administrative salaries have failed to meet that test."
Hernandez and Councilman George Mirabal said they would not seek re-election when their terms are up.
About 275 furious residents packed the community center and hundreds more waited outside, police said. After the council announced its decision, scores of people waited for a turn at the public podium to vent their anger.
Many people were visibly shaken and shouted at the council to resign. Some called them names and cursed at them.
Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo was defiant in saying she would not resign and that she would "stand by my people."
"How dare you try to take a penny more from our pockets," responded Raquel McLafferty, an 11-year resident of Bell. "Do the city a favor. We don't want you here, and we are not your people."
The five City Council members, looking grim-faced, entered the center to an earsplitting chorus of boos and shouts in Spanish of "Get out."
When one person shouted that Velez, the sole member not drawing a huge salary, was the only decent member of the council, the crowd broke into applause.
Hernandez managed a weak smile as he called the meeting to order and asked "How's everybody today?" The audience responded with an almost deafening chorus of boos.
Bell's city manager, police chief and assistant city manager all resigned last week after it was revealed they were making salaries totaling $1.6 million a year.
The six-figure salaries at City Hall have prompted a backlash from the community and investigations by the California attorney general and county district attorney.
Last week, Hernandez defended the salaries of the city manager and other staff as being in line with similar positions in other jurisdictions. He also noted the city had achieved 15 years of balanced budgets.
Brown, a candidate for governor, said he had demanded to see employment contracts within two days to determine whether to file any charges.
"The real question is, what were they thinking?" Brown said. "What was the atmosphere in Bell that would allow this and make it plausible at least to the members of the City Council?"
The grass-roots Bell Association to Stop the Abuse had threatened to recall the council members if they didn't resign or slash their own pay.
The salaries exploded into public view after a Los Angeles Times investigation, based on California Public Records Act requests, showed the city payroll was bloated with six-figure salaries:
- Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo made $787,637 a year, getting a series of raises since being hired in 1993 at $72,000. President Barack Obama makes $400,000.
- Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia made $376,288 a year.
- Police Chief Randy Adams earned $457,000 - $150,000 more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
Monday's statement on the city website said Hernandez, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo and Councilmen Luis Artiga and George Mirabal would have slashed their salaries at a meeting last Thursday but could not because the issue had yet to be placed on the council's agenda.
Councilman Lorenzo Velez makes about $8,000 a year, in line with the part-time pay for council members of similar-sized cities. He urged his colleagues to reduce their salaries to that level.
Nearly 300 protesters marched to the homes and workplaces of the mayor and council members during a raucous protest Sunday. Some carried signs and wore T-shirts proclaiming, "My city is more corrupt than your city," and passed out fliers urging people to attend the council meeting.