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Published August 11. 2010 05:00PM

Revelations about gross spending on wages and benefits for city workers in Bell, California, now have municipal workers on the hot seat in other parts of the country as well.

The salary scandal in the small Los Angeles suburb - one of the poorest in Los Angeles County - is still widening. On Monday, California Attorney General Jerry Brown subpoenaed nine past and present officials in Bell to turn over their financial records and undergo questioning under oath. The city itself must also produce records relating to a law firm that formerly handled the city's business.

Brown, like everyone else studying Bell's open salary spigot, wants to know how a small city of about 40,000 people could escape detection for so long. In most towns across the land, a $100,000 salary is considered good money. In Bell, former city manager Robert Rizzo, the focus of much of the outrage, was being paid 15 times that amount in wages and benefits before resigning, along with the assistant city manager and police chief.

The public outcry caused the mayor and three council members, who each earned nearly $100,000 a year, to reduce their salaries by 90 percent. Officials investigating the case also wonder how the Bell officials escaped detection from the state pension fund.

The case has opened a can of worms for news investigative teams in other parts of the country.

Just 10 minutes from Bell, tax-funded salaries are getting close scrutiny in the town of Vernon, which has just 89 residents. The former city manager is paid a $509,000 pension, even though he's been charged with misappropriating public funds

One official close to retirement in Highlands Park, Illinois, is being paid $435,000, and will give him a pension of $166,000. Another person on the city's payroll was paid $185,000 and given a SUV to sweeten his payout from a position which has no job description.

In Irving, Texas, the city manager is paid $428,000, which is more than the president of the United States.

Regarding the Bell outrage, California AG Brown said when city employees from a tiny municipality make as much or nearly double the salary of the president of the United States, "things are out of control."

That's a no-brainer. In a day when municipal budgets are leaner and meaner than ever before - being sliced to the point where important programs and services are jeopardized - it's certainly not a good time to be found draining the taxpayer-funded local treasury with a bloated compensation package.

By Jim Zbick

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