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Bell fiasco can't be repeated

August 21, 2010

If manure flows downstream, cities like Glendale and Ventura have found themselves in it up to their knees.

In the weeks since news of the excessive executive salaries at the city of Bell broke, the cascading effects of those pay decisions have continued to rain down on previous employers like Glendale, which could see its pension obligation for former Police Chief Randy Adams balloon by an additional $40,000 a year.

Under the current system in which a municipal employee's pension is tied their highest salary year, former employers are forced to share the pain in pay decisions over which they have absolutely no control. And since city contributions to employee pensions are based on time served, they could be left holding most of the weight if they were the longer-term employers.


State pension officials are investigating the legality of Bell's compensation packages that, if found to be improper, may be rescinded. But determining that this system is all wrong and patently unfair shouldn't hang on a technicality.

Enter the efforts of local Assemblymen Anthony Portantino and Mike Gatto, who this week introduced legislation that would severely punish cities that pay excessive salaries to city officials and elected leaders.

Under Gatto's bill, cities like Bell would have to cover the additional retirement benefits triggered by an increase of wages that are 15% higher than the employee's last position. Adams' pay more than doubled when he left Glendale — where he was paid about $215,000 — for Bell, which paid him $471,000.

That measure would offer much-needed protection for cities like Glendale, which had no control over his outlandish salary bump, but could be left on the hook for a substantially higher pension contribution as a result.

Another bill co-authored by Portantino would impose hefty financial penalties, including a 50% income tax on city council members, on cities that dare to act as Bell has. It would require greater public transparency when approving such contracts and restrict their ability to issue bonds for public projects.

The piling-on of politicians in a rush to slap a scandal when it's down is nothing new when it comes to currying favor with voters during an election year, but in this case, it's hard not say, "Bring it on."

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