California Watch
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Money and Politics

California WatchBlog

August 2, 2010 | Lance Williams

Rage. Protests. Investigations. Resignations. Cries for reform.

“Firestorm” is an overused word in the context of public response to scandal, but it describes the reaction to the Los Angeles Times’ report on how officials of the city of Bell, in Los Angeles County, population 37,000, became perhaps the highest-paid public officials in the nation.

The (now-departed) city manager was being paid $787,000 per year. His assistant was earning $376,000. The police chief was paid $457,000.

Amid the uproar, the officials resigned. City council members renounced their $100,000-per-year part-time salaries. The state attorney general, the state controller and the local district attorney are investigating. Now the council is fending off a recall campaign.

Driving much of the public reaction – including the proposed mass recall – is the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, or BASTA.

BASTA is a “coalition of concerned citizens and the Bell Police Officers Association,” according to its website.

“We won’t stop until they’re all gone!” BASTA says.

But city records show that the police officers are being paid hefty salaries by the same council they’ve targeted.

According to a salary list provided to California Watch, 18 of the 33 officers carried on the city’s books as “safety employees – patrol” are projected to earn more than $90,000 this year, overtime included.

The average pay of the 33 cops with OT is $118,900.

Top pay is $150,980 – two captains earn that much. Last year, 11 officers were paid more than $10,000 in overtime. One worked $26,109 worth of OT. The list is below.

City of Bell

A source familiar with Bell politics suggested the police union wants a new contract – and wants to make sure the council doesn’t contract out police services to the sheriff or LAPD, as have other small cities in LA County.

Are Bell cops overpaid?

There’s no ready source of comparative salary data for California police officers, and wages range widely, says Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

“We have officers in the far southeast and far northern regions of California who make between $35,000 and $50,000 (per year) and then we have officers in the Bay Area and central coast who make between $85,000 and $110,000,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“It all depends on the economics of their geographic area.”

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