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Bruce Malkenhorst Should Thank Robert Rizzo

Posted by Larry Doyle on July 24, 2010 10:15 AM |

Bruce Malkenhorst must be a very happy man today and for that he should thank Robert Rizzo.

Who is Malkenhorst? Who is Rizzo? What is the story here?

Readers may recall that 14 months ago, Malkenhorst, a former municipal employee in Vernon, CA was exposed as the recipient of a sweet little ‘half million dollar pension’ connected to his duties in the bustling metropolis of Vernon, CA. How bustling? Vernon, a community in southern California, has a total population of approximately 100 citizens.

Malkenhorst and his cronies in Vernon singlehandedly redefined the concept of municipal fiscal abuse. I highlighted this story and accompanying unbelievable details a year ago in writing a story which an inordinate number of readers have reviewed entitled California’s $100, 000 Club.

This week, Malkenhorst and his pals in Vernon must have partied real hard and toasted Robert Rizzo all week long. Why is that?

In a story which truly defies almost every sense of decency and integrity in the realm of municipal finance today, we have recently learned that Rizzo and selected other public officials in the municipality of Bell, CA are making mega-bucks and getting real rich. How rich? Let’s navigate. The Los Angeles Times highlighted this travesty in writing, Is a City Manager Worth $800,000?,

Bell, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, pays its top officials some of the highest salaries in the nation, including nearly $800,000 annually for its city manager, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

In addition to the $787,637 salary of Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo, Bell pays Police Chief Randy Adams $457,000 a year, about 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck or Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and more than double New York City’s police commissioner. Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia makes $376,288 annually, more than most city managers.

What can we learn about Bell? Do not confuse Bell with Bel Air, a mere 24 miles westward but in reality a world away. Bell has a total population of approximately 37 thousand citizens and per capita income of 13k.

What do Rizzo and his partners have to say about their ‘big bucks’? No shrinking violets in this crowd. As the LA Times reports,

Rizzo, who has run Bell’s day-to-day civic affairs since 1993, was unapologetic about his salary. (LD’s edit: Rizzo’s salary in 1993 was a more reasonable 72k)

“If that’s a number people choke on, maybe I’m in the wrong business,” he said. “I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I’ve done.”

Spaccia agreed, adding: “I would have to argue you get what you pay for.”

Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez defended the salaries. “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.”

Is that right? Is that what the community says? Not everybody in the community. The Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, otherwise known as BASTA, has a lot to say about these salaries. What does BASTA look to accomplish? From their website, we learn BASTA’s

mission is help restore good governance to the City of Bell by ending the abuse of Bell taxpayers’ funds by various elected and appointed officials.

Let’s take a quick listen to representatives of BASTA on a recent interview:

If you see extended fireworks over Vernon,CA, a mere 4 miles away from Bell, those most likely are not extended July 4th pyrotechnics but perhaps Bruce Malkenhorst having “Robert Rizzo Day” for the balance of 2010.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

If this story were not so tragic in light of the ongoing fiscal nightmare in our nation today, I’d think I was reading a financial review of third world puppeteers.

What has happened to our country?

Comments always encouraged and appreciated. I am sure readers would welcome hearing from those in Bell or surrounding communities with specific insights on this story. Thanks!!


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  • Sunshine

    Update. Rizzo and the other cronies highlighted in your story have submitted their resignations. They are now in a position to collect their extraordinary pensions. The Pasadena Star-News carried this story last evening, Bell Can’t Be Unrung,

    Residents of tiny Bell got an apology of sorts Friday from Mayor Oscar Hernandez.

    Hours after accepting resignations from the city’s chief administrative officer, his assistant and the Bell police chief, Hernandez claimed their exorbitant salaries were justified.

    That’s right. Justified.

    In Hernandez’s eyes it’s OK for Richard Rizzo, the city manager, to have made nearly $800,000 a year; perfectly understandable for his assistant Angela Spaccia to have earned nearly $400,000; and absolutely right for former Police Chief Richard Adams to have taken home $457,000 annually.

    “A look at the big picture of city compensation shows that salaries of the city manager and other top city staff have been in line with similar positions over the period of their tenure,” Hernandez wrote in a letter issued by city staff.

    He then blamed the media for stirring up controversy in the small town, where the average family makes just $40,000 in a year and one in five families live below the federal poverty line.

    “We recognize that today’s economic climate and the financial hardships so many families are suffering put our past compensation decisions in a new light. To the residents of Bell, we apologize.”

    Gee, thanks.

    One wonders if the residents of California will get a similar apology from Hernandez. After all we’ll be picking
    up the tab on Rizzo’s, Adams’ and Spaccia’s pensions.
    Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan offered a different take on the whole situation – and open government laws in California – to Bloomberg News on Friday.

    “Transparency, there is none,” Riordan said. “The things they hide from the public are just monstrous.”

    MORE BELL: So where was Bell’s city attorney as the paychecks piled up for council members and staff alike?

    Not sure what the answer to that one is, but Edward Lee of Best Best and Krieger will have some explaining to do.

    Already David Demerjian of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Division and state Attorney General Jerry Brown are examining the fiasco. CalPERS, responsible for paying Rizzo’s, Adams’ and Spaccia’s retirements, will also investigate, officials said.

    For the record Lee, the managing partner of BB&K’s Los Angeles office, has some involvement in local communities. Besides Bell, he represents Covina, South Pasadena and Downey, according to BB&K’s website Friday.

    A 1977 graduate of UC Davis, Lee received his law degree from Southwestern University in 1985.

    So if there has been no transparency, who in California is responsible for that? Who will address this travesty and the others that must be out there. You’re going to tell me that there weren’t kickbacks, payoffs, and other financial crimes connected to these pensions.

    What a joke!! Problem is the joke’s on us.

  • Lou

    In the grand scheme of things is it truly any different in Washington. How is it that some of our career politicians rack up huge sums of wealth. How many other Charlie Rangels are in the Washington cesspool but just have not been exposed? Times may change but the story remains the same.


  • Patrick

    Robbing the city coffers in this fashion and thinking that it can be done legally is a case screaming to be filed. Who in California will pick up this ball? What other towns have done the same thing? Do not think for a second that the local officials in the surrounding communities are not aware of these paychecks and pensions. instead of doing the right thing for the taxpayers, officials all too often think, “where and how can I get some of this??”


  • mmb2

    Let’s see if I have this right. Bell currently has a budget
    deficit of around a million a year. The city floated $50. mil in general obligation bonds around 2004, and now boasts a surplus of
    $22.7 mil. That means something like $27.3 mil has
    been expended in the past 5 years? Follow the money.

    This gang’s got some splainin to do. They aren’t going to need a pension when they are guests in a California correctional facility. It’s gonna be interesting reading in an election year.

  • Malkenhorsts

    A picture of the Malkenhorsts backyard…

  • mike

    all this corruption and scandal sounds alot like what goes on in mexico imgine that.

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