California to seek monitor for Bell affairs

A display of pictures of current and former City of Bell council members who were arrested on corruption charges is seen following a news conference on September 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
A display of pictures of current and former City of Bell council members who were arrested on corruption charges is seen following a news conference on September 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The California attorney general's office says it will go to court to ask for an outside monitor to oversee affairs in Bell after negotiations with the scandal-plagued city broke down.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Jim Humes told the Los Angeles Times in a story published on its website Wednesday that talks with the city broke down when it became clear the two sides couldn't come to an agreement that the state felt guaranteed accountability and transparency.

State officials had been negotiating the issue of oversight for several weeks with the city's current interim manager and attorney, who were brought in after the city's previous top officials resigned this summer.

Eight former or current Bell officials face criminal charges over alleged mishandling of city funds.

The attorney general's office said it would seek to gain complete access to city records for an independent overseer.

Officials might also take the unprecedented step of asking a judge to place the city into receivership, which would give a court-appointed official power to veto council decisions and set policy.

Courts have placed school districts into receivership, but experts told the Times they cannot remember a California city having an outside monitor imposed upon it.

Bell's current leaders have opposed giving up so much authority.

Talks with the city broke down when it became clear "we couldn't come to an agreement that we felt guaranteed accountability and transparency," Chief Deputy Atty. Gen. Jim Humes said in a statement.

"Our main goal has been to ensure accountability and transparency in city management until new elections can be held and to do so without imposing high costs," Humes said. "Because the city is unwilling or unable to agree to a resolution that would achieve our goals, we plan to go to court."

Jamie Casso, Bell's interim city attorney, told the Times he was surprised the issue was going to court and thought the city was still negotiating with the office of Attorney General Jerry Brown. Casso said the city has tried to address the attorney general's concerns and has offered an alternative proposal for governing the city, which he declined to detail.

"I sent them another letter this afternoon, hoping to continue an open dialogue with them," Casso said Wednesday.

Information from: Los Angeles Times

© 2010 The Associated Press.

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