Bell recall campaign to begin this weekend

Residents of the City of Bell who are calling for the ouster of city officials line up to enter the community center for a council meeting on July 26, 2010 in Bell, California.
Residents of the City of Bell who are calling for the ouster of city officials line up to enter the community center for a council meeting on July 26, 2010 in Bell, California.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The hits just keep on coming in connection with the salary scandal in Bell, where a recall campaign is to begin this weekend.

At a City Council meeting Friday, council members voted unanimously to subpoena any city records that may be on the private e-mail accounts of its former city manager, whose nearly $800,000 annual salary sparked fraud investigations in the small Los Angeles suburb.

The council also voted to cancel a contract to oversee neighboring Maywood, which could be forced to shut down as a result, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Maywood's City Council voted in June to disband its police force, lay off most of its 45 city workers and pay Bell $50,833 a month to take over operations for the city, leaving it with just two full-time employees and a part-time elected City Council.

"The decision that the city of Bell has taken will have a crippling affect on the city of Maywood's ability to provide services to residents," Maywood's interim City Manager Lilian Meyers told The Times. "At this point,
our option is to close the doors or bring in independent contractors very quickly to provide minimal services."

Bell Interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo told the newspaper the decision to cancel the contract with Maywood was due partly to the scandal over the huge salaries paid to its top officials, possible election fraud and other
improprieties, which are being investigated by the Los Angeles County district attorney and California attorney general.

The city found itself in the national spotlight after The Times reported that City Manager Robert Rizzo was being paid an annual salary of $787,637, Police Chief Randy Adams, $457,000, and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, $376,000, while three of the city's four council members were being paid $97,000 for their part-time jobs.

The three officials resigned, while the mayor and council members agreed to reduce their salaries, but refused to heed their outraged constituents' calls to step down.

It's also been reported that the disgraced officials are eligible for huge pensions; that some had taken out questionable loans from the city; that residents' property tax rates were unlawfully high; and that the city also overcharged them for sewer service.

Officials were able to raise their salaries because residents voted to become a charter city in an election that some have alleged was rigged.

A local group calling itself the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse issued a statement tonight praising several City Council actions, including canceling the Maywood contract and a decision to sue former city administrators, consultants and attorneys for actions that led up to the scandal.

"Report and respond has been an important tenet of our reform efforts, said BASTA representative Denisse Rodarte. "BASTA has been very disciplined about maintaining that focus. It is very, very encouraging to see the fruits of those efforts as the abuses of the Rizzo regime begin to be dismantled and legal action will be taken against the city of Bell.''

BASTA also announced that signature gathering for the recall of City Council members will begin this weekend and that interim City Attorney Jaime Casso sent a letter to council members saying he believes the recall and new council elections should be held at the same time.

"We are pleased that Mr. Casso has asked council members to vote to make both elections at the same time,'' said BASTA spokesman Dale Walker.

"After the nightmare of (former city attorney) Edward Lee, it's encouraging to have a city attorney that's responding to our demands and seems to care about what's in the public's interest. But let me be clear -- this is just the beginning of the reform process. We have a long way to go.''

BASTA also announced the addition of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union to the coalition.

"I was raised in the city of Bell and have a stake in the community,'' said Cheryl Parisi, executive director of AFSCME Council 36. "More importantly, as AFSCME, we want to make sure that the abuse of rank-and-file
Bell city workers ends.''

BASTA is made up of Bell residents, the Bell Police Officers Association and AFSCME Council 36.