Who Isn’t Probing Bell Pay?

The State’s Attorney General, Controller, County D.A. and FBI are on the case. Residents want mayor, council members to resign.

By EGP & CNS Reports

The state Controller’s Office began a review of Bell’s finances on Tuesday, one day after the mayor and City Council members agreed to slash their hefty salaries that raised the ire of residents and has prompted multiple investigations.

Controller John Chiang and his team of investigators, at the invitation of Pedro Carrillo, the city’s interim chief administrative officer, are reviewing the city’s books from the past seven years.

“If we identify that there are areas that require additional investigation, especially legal aspects, we will refer this to the A.G.’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office,” Chiang told reporters outside Bell City Hall on Tuesday. “If it requires additional audits, we will do so.”

And on Wednesday, Los Angeles County prosecutors said that they launched their own investigation back in March and are looking into allegations of voter fraud and conflicts of interest involving municipal business in Bell, and not just councilmember salaries as they announced earlier this month.

District Attorney Steve Cooley described the probe as “multifaceted,” and suggests Bell officials will face more scrutiny than they were expecting.

Voting fraud claims and allegations of possible conflicts of interest in city business add new issues about how government operated in the small working-class city where top city officials were among the nation’s highest paid.

The Attorney General’s Office has already begun its own investigation into how part-time City Council members wound up earning six-figure salaries, and how former Bell Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo was paid nearly $800,000 a year, police Chief Randy Adams $457,000 and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia $376,288.

The administrators salaries had been raised at the same time employees, including police officer, were being laid off, or seeing their pay and hours reduced.

Following a City Council closed session last week, Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia resigned, but they are still eligible for retirement pensions that will pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Rizzo’s pension alone could cost taxpayers over $800,000 per year, according to pension experts who say the exorbitant amount will have to be subsidized by other municipalities.

The Attorney General’s Office on Monday subpoenaed hundreds of employment, salary and other records from Bell as part of its investigation. The District Attorney’s Office has also been reviewing the city’s actions to determine if any criminal charges are warranted in the high salaries, and if voter fraud had been committed in the city.

A lawsuit filed this week claims police officers in the city committed voter fraud by filling out absentee ballots for residents and telling people who to vote for in 2009. The lawsuit also alleges that officers filled out absentee ballots for people who were dead.

Now, the republican candidate for Secretary of State, Damon Dunn, is adding his voice to those calling for an investigation. Dunn wants his opponent, Secretary of State Debra Bowen to launch her own inquiry into charges of voter fraud.

These latest investigation announcements come on the heels of yet another contentious Bell City Council meeting Monday night. During that meeting, the council agreed to lower their salaries from roughly $96,000 a year to $673 a month. Mayor Oscar Hernandez announced he would not accept any pay for the remainder of his term or seek re-election in March.

Council Members  Luis Artiga, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal will now receive the same pay as the fifth council member, Lorenzo Velez.

Ignoring repeated calls to resign, the mayor did acknowledge that the council’s action on awarding administrative salaries was “indefensible.”

“To the residents of this great city, I apologize…” Hernandez said. “We know we have hard work ahead of us to restore Bell’s trust as we work to maintain the unparalleled city services that our families depend on.”

He conceded that there should be “a full, transparent and deliberate review of the city’s actions. To that end I will dedicate the remainder of my term to spearheading our city’s cooperation with the Los Angeles County district attorney and the California attorney general’s inquiries.”

Despite the council’s action on their salaries, the activist group The Bell Association to Stop the Abuse (BASTA) —formed just 10 days ago after the news of the salaries broke—continued to demand that the mayor and the four high-paid council members resign.

The group now has 1,200 people officially signed-up, according to Cristina Garcia, Bell Gardens resident and spokesperson for BASTA.

Garcia, a former Bell Gardens city council candidate, had skipped Bell Gardens’ Council meeting Monday night to help organize protestors at the Bell meeting.

“BASTA is actually a bunch of different leaderships that have come together under one umbrella,” Garcia told EGP, noting that the group’s primary goal is to create “better government, better governance for everybody, something that is transparent”

The city council’s salary reduction and the investigation by Attorney General Brown are positive results from the residents’ protests, Garcia said.

“It’s not where we want to be but it lets us know that what we’re doing is working, they’re feeling the pressure,” she said.

While the council meeting was still taking place, hundreds of residents who were not allowed into the meeting because of capacity limits, continued protesting, and chanting “Refund! Refund!” and “Recall! Recall!”

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July 29, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

One Response to “Who Isn’t Probing Bell Pay?”

  1. m. villegas on July 30th, 2010 11:12 am

    being that the city of bell needs a police chief ,maybe they might want to consider a highly honest officer like retired det. sergeant james corcoran

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