One day after the Great Recession of 2007-09 was declared dead-and-done by a national economic research bureau, the former city manager of Bell, California ($787,000 salary), his assistant ($376,000), plus the mayor and five part-time council members ($100,000 apiece) – all of whom, evidently, must have been oblivious to the existence of a recession, judging from the exorbitant salaries they paid themselves – were rounded up by police and marched off to trade pin stripes for jail stripes.
The Los Angeles Times blew the lid off the pell-mell hell in Bell back in July. Two reporters got wind of the stench emanating from City Hall while investigating possible malfeasance in a neighboring town. Then the L.A. County district attorney capped it off last week by executing arrest warrants for one and all.
“Corruption on steroids,” D.A. Steve Cooley called it.
Bell (population 36,500) has nearly as many residents as Hallandale Beach, but crammed into about half the space. Council members in towns the size of Bell earn an average $4,800 a year, prosecutors noted.
But these greedy goons had been sidling up to the public trough and ladling out for themselves astronomic compensation. Adding together his salary and benefits, the city manager alone drained a total of $1.5 million in his last year.
The town’s main zip code is 90201. This merry band of pirates – whose crime, according to state law, was NOT overpaying themselves but, rather, lying about it – went about looting the city treasury, behaving as if they thought they were living in another, more posher and la-la part of L.A. County where those last two zip code numerals are reversed.
In fact, Beverly Hills council members make just $9,400 annually. Its city manager, when compared to Bell’s former one, earns a paltry $275,000.
The good citizens of Bell, of course, paid dearly for those out-of-this-world salaries: They got nailed with a .09% hike in their property taxes, beginning in 2007.
Yup, that would be the same year the Great Recession began. A recession the town crooks either were blind to or just didn’t give a rat’s ass about (“Recession? What recession?”).
What happened in Bell hasn’t happened here because our county commissioners ($6,000 salary, plus $55,000 in annual benefits, including car and expense allowances) have never been able to convince Miami-Dade voters to approve pay raises in 11 attempts over half a century.
We were going to be asked a twelfth time, with a ballot question in August’s primary, but commissioners chickened out last May and withdrew it. They must have sensed it would be a losing proposition. That, or maybe the realization dawned on them that it was an abso-fuckin-lutely stupid thing to have hat in hand, asking voters for a pay raise, AMID A RECESSION.
Which we now know was, by that time, technically over anyway. But they apparently didn’t think it beneath themselves to initially ask for a raise regardless (“Recession? What recession?”).
Nor was it beneath them last week, while hammering out the county’s budget, to decide that what county taxpayers and homeowners need RIGHT NOW is more property taxes, and what county employees (all 28,000 of ‘em) need RIGHT NOW are more perks and more pay.
The sheer arrogance! It takes a unique subset of political species to be so tone-deaf to believe that when times are hard and people are hurting, that’s the time to dip their ladles into the public till and spoon out pay raises for themselves and fellow government employees.
Yet the County Commission okayed that budget last week.
What a way to stick it to the peasants. Especially in a county suffering 12% unemployment. Where foreclosures are up. Where – despite official declarations that it’s over – the Great Recession doesn’t appear to have lifted.
It’s as if the spirit of Marie Antoinette had crossed two centuries and was speaking through our commissioners last week, goading them to as much as say to us peasants:
“LET THEM EAT FUNNEL CAKE!”
See, our county leaders believe that if you’re a county employee, you shouldn’t have to suffer the effects of the Great Recession – or, apparently, any economic downturn – as the common folk must. Because you’re special.
And what of us non-employee common folk who care to, dare to, complain?
“LET THEM EAT TWINKIES!”
Just because the rest of us suffer doesn’t mean that our county leaders are inclined to share our pain. Back in January, County Manager George Burgess expected that 2010 property values would fall and county revenue would drop as a result. Yet he, Mayor Alvarez, and commissioners agreed to rustle up pay raises and benefit hikes for county employees to the tune of $132 million (“Recession? What recession?”).
Did you get a raise this year? Did you enjoy a spike in your benefits? I didn’t think so.
Or did the economy downsize you out of a job? Did it strip you of what benefits you had remaining to your name?
As a county employee, you can expect a safety net or golden parachute to catch you if you fall. If you’re just a commoner, well… good luck.
Being a county employee also means never having to sacrifice perks. Commissioners last year may have slashed $400 million in spending, but that didn’t include cutbacks on perks like their taxpayer-subsidized luxury rides.
While the rest of us get by on whatever, we’ve furnished Burgess his 2010 Infiniti, Commissioners Joe Martinez his 2010 Lexus, Audrey Edmonson her 2010 Cadillac, Rebeca Sosa her 2009 Infiniti, and Carlos Gimenez his 2009 Mercedes. And regular readers of this column already are aware of what we’ve provided hizzoner, Carlos the Arrogant, for whom a trip to an ear doctor might now confirm his political tone deafness to be a full-blown, chronic, and irreversible disability.
Burgess justified his fancy set of wheels because “I work very, very hard.” Of course you do, Little Georgie. Would you like a gold star?
Their refusal to reduce or surrender their perks is, as the head of government watchdog group Florida TaxWatch told the Herald last spring, “bad in prosperous times, and incredibly inappropriate and unacceptable in these most severe economic times.
“It says,” Dominic Calabro declared, “[that] public service is not about serving the public good, it is about self-aggrandizement and selfish interest.” You don’t say.
Some get the message. Hialeah’s city council, for instance, made cuts to police overtime and holiday pay, and will make its officers contribute some of their base pay to their own health insurance costs.
“This is not a reflection of their work or their professionalism or their service to the community,” Mayor Julio Robaina told the Herald in August. “This is just a reality of what our world is going through.”
The sequel to Wall Street is out now in theaters. “Greed is good,” was the infamous mantra from the original. But greed got Gordon Gekko a prison sentence, and now, in the sequel, he has emerged from lockup a changed man, touting a book on the lecture circuit entitled, “Is Greed Good?”
The idiots inside the Stephen Clark Building seem to think so. They’ve taken Gekko’s discarded mantra to heart. Will they ever change? Or will their Antoinettian rebuke to us be –
“LET THEM EAT MOON PIES!”
So now comes local auto magnate Norman Braman to –
“How DARE the impertinence! OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”
– threaten a recall campaign against the aristocracy at County Hall. A headline in last week’s Herald (“Recall threat stirs officials’ anger”) summed up a reaction echoed by Commissioner Barbara Jordan at last week’s commission meeting:
“I resent any attempt at intimidation,” harrumphed her royal highness.
Well, excuuuuse us. It only happens to be OUR county government, OUR tax dollars, and OUR prerogative whether to even retain you pompous ass-wipes in office or give you the booting-out that you so richly deserve.
A recall election may be just the appetizing dessert we need to chase down this bad case of indigestion. Mr. Braman, bring it on!
As for the pirates of Bell, let them all eat plenty of humble pie. I hear it’s on the prison menu.