Credit for revealing that Bell, Calif., city officials were paid whopping salaries --- with the top municipal post earning almost $800,000, twice as much annually as the U.S. president --- goes to digging by Los Angeles Times reporters Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives --- despite an era of newsroom downsizing, notices Grumpy Editor.
Bell is a blue-collar city of about 38,000 people, seven miles southeast of the L.A. Times building.
Whether in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York or District of Columbia, among other locales, chances are similar stories on taxpayer rip-offs are waiting to be uncovered.
James Rainey, writing in the L.A. Times, asks:
• With newspapers shrinking and new media alternatives slow to step into the void, one has to wonder how many other city halls conceal Bell-sized sleaze.
• How many other city officials have scrimped on services to fatten their paychecks?
• How many have cut lucrative contracts to benefit friends and relatives?
• Which developers got sweetheart deals for campaign cash?
The L.A. Times reported Bell's City Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo made $787,637 a year; Police Chief Randy Adams collected $457,000 or 50 percent more than the Los Angeles police chief, and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia made $376,288, more than the top administrator for Los Angeles County.
All three resigned last week.
Rainey points out the revelations were unearthed despite reporting ranks in Los Angeles County “thinned to half what they were 15 years ago.”
Three and four decades ago, newspaper beats included city halls.
That’s when sharp-eyed reporters attended city council meetings, quizzed participants and scanned documents.
But in Los Angeles County, which harbors 88 cities, the L.A. Times doesn’t have enough reporters to cover them on a regular basis.
That’s when tips from taxpayers to city (or metro) editors --- everywhere around the nation --- can be helpful in directing talent to investigate.