State oversight panel, Bell residents to hear testimony on official’s abuse of funds

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A resident celebrates the arrest of eight former and current Bell city officials by shaking little bells in front of City Hall on Sept. 21, 2010. The city officials were charged with misappropriation of more than $5.5 million in public funds for excessive salaries and illegal personal loans.

An Assembly state committee is meeting tonight in Bell to talk about the city’s pay and pension scandal. This is the first time state lawmakers will hash out what went wrong in the city — and why.

Bell residents will hear from the State Legislative Counsel, who’ll talk about rules that govern charter cities, such as the City of Bell.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association will testify about the public’s right to local government records.

The hearing will also focus on the findings of State Controller John Chiang’s audits of Bell’s finances. In September he found that city officials had overcharged homeowners nearly $3 million in property taxes to pay for pensions. Chiang later concluded the city had virtually no checks and balances on spending, and ran its general fund — as he put it — “like a petty cash drawer.”

Two more audits are under way. One looks at how Bell officials managed state and federal dollars. That one could be out as early as Friday.

A final audit — by an independent accounting firm hired to review Bell’s books — is due at the end of the month.

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