Bell's Surprise for Other SoCal Cities

Glendale moves to block pension payouts to Bell's former chief of police

Monday, Aug 2, 2010  |  Updated 9:25 AM PDT
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Bell's Surprise for Other SoCal Cities

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Glendale, Simi Vally, Ventura and other small cities will have to pay part of the pensions of some of Bell's  former city officials, according to an LA Times report.

More than half of Robert Rizzo's $600,000-a-year pension will be spread  among 140 small cities and special districts such as La Canada Flintridge,  Norco and Goleta, which are in the same pension liability pool as Bell, the Times reported.

The rest of his pension will be shouldered by his former employers,  Hesperia and Rancho Cucamonga, The Times reported.

However, in the case of its former police Chief, Randy Adams, Bell  escapes nearly all the costs of his estimated $411,300-a-year pension. Under CalPERS rules, the city is responsible for just 3 percent of that because he  only worked there for one year. Taxpayers in Glendale, Simi Valley and Ventura  would have to pick up the rest. 

Even though Rizzo's and Adams' salaries were relatively modest until  they started working in Bell, other cities will be responsible for much of  their pension costs because of the way the state's permissive pension laws  work.

And it's for bringing that system to light that Rizzo might deserve thanks. As Times' columnist Steve Lopez  writes:

In Bell, where the staggering salaries of top executives are under investigation and they were forced to resign, the pension formula is one of the more generous in the state. In the case of Rizzo, it's 2.7% of his $787,637 salary multiplied by three decades in three public jobs, with the gravy train starting at his current age of 55. That puts him between $600,000 and $700,000 a year in pension pay.

Maybe we should thank the dirty rat. His greed and arrogance were so monumental, he's shocked the entire state, and that just might send the whole gravy train right off the tracks.

When they resigned last week, Rizzo was making nearly $800,000 a year,  and Adams was making $457,000. Bell hired Adams at more than double the salary  he was making in Glendale, and that salary spike also doubled his eligible  pension amount under CalPERS, the state's public employee retirement plan.

CalPERS manages retirements for 1.6 million active and retired  employees. An estimated 90 percent of public agencies in California participate  in the retirement system.

Glendale is one of three cities attempting to block benefits for the chief.

Public pensions are difficult to rescind. Stephen Silver, a Santa Monica  attorney who specializes in public pension law, courts have repeatedly upheld  the contracts in favor of employees.

"It's pretty hard to do," Silver said. "You'd have to prove some sort  of fraud or undue influence."

Silver said that perhaps the best chance for rescinding at least part of  a pension would be for investigators to show that Bell's high salaries were  an unlawful expenditure of public funds.

"That's what this really smacks of," Silver said. 

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