Tuesday, October 3, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chutzpah: Ex-City Manager Sues Bell

LOS ANGELES (CN) - In a scandal that refuses to die, the City of Bell's former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo claims in a pro se complaint that the city owes him back pay on his nearly $800,000 annual salary, and benefits, because it fired him without cause.

Rizzo claims the city breached his contract and owes him wages and benefits because "he has not been convicted of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude."

Bell, a Los Angeles suburb of about 36,000, made national headlines in 2010 when the salaries of its top officials were revealed. State auditors found that the city's six highest-paid administrators received combined annual salaries of $6 million.

Rizzo's $1.5 million in annual compensation apparently wasn't enough for him; he gave himself an interest-free loan of $93,000 and paid it back with money the City Council had put into his retirement fund, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Rizzo's base salary of nearly $800,000 a year was nearly twice the salary of the president. The excessive salaries put the blue-collar town on the edge of bankruptcy.

Four of Bell's five-member council were paid more than $100,000 a year for their part-time jobs. Mayor Oscar Hernandez and the four council members all resigned or were recalled.

Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia earned $376,000 a year, while police chief Randy Adams' bagged a $457,000 salary - 50 percent more than the Los Angeles police chief, according to the L.A. Times.

Rizzo denies any wrongdoing in his 8-page Superior Court complaint and says the city should have given him 90-day notice under his "Evergreen," contract rather than giving him the boot.

"Rizzo's employment agreement includes a termination provision which expressly provides that Rizzo may be involuntarily terminated only 'for cause.' As defined therein, a 'for cause' termination requires 'a conviction of a felony or for a crime involving moral turpitude.' The employment agreement further provides: 'For purposes of his agreement the City shall have the burden of establishing by a preponderance of evidence that employee was convicted of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude," according to the complaint.

It continues: "In July 2010, at an open council session, the City Council was confronted with a public dispute concerning several elected officials and City employees. In response, the City Council locked Rizzo out of his office and stopped paying Rizzo his salary and benefits due to him under his employment agreement.

"Neither party has given the other party ninety days written notice of nonrenewal of the employment agreement.

"Rizzo has not been convicted of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude, or at all. As such, the City did not have, and does not have, 'cause' to terminate Rizzo under the agreement."

Rizzo says he reminded the city in August 2010 that it was obligated to keep paying his enormous salary, but the city failed to respond.

"The City's breach has caused Rizzo to suffer damages, including unpaid wages and benefits owed under the agreement, Rizzo is entitled to recover back pay, front pay and all wages and benefits owed under the agreement," the complaint states.

A county judge tossed the state's civil claims against Rizzo and other Bell officials this year.

But in March a Los Angeles County grand jury indicted Rizzo and Spaccia on new charges of misappropriating public funds, conflict of interest, and falsifying and hiding public documents.

Rizzo says his contract also covers unpaid retirement and life insurance coverage. He seeks damages for breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and labor code violations.

Bell Councilman Rick Velencia told Courthouse News that Rizzo "is just out to steal" from the city.

"We haven't seen the suit, but frankly I'm concerned that we're not going to see justice for the City of Bell," he said.

Rizzo did not respond to a request for an interview.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.