City of Bell's Salary Scandal Expands


City officials in Bell have come under fire in the past week for salaries among the highest in the nation for comparable positions--and their troubles have now expanded to a full-fledged investigation from L.A. County's D.A. into voting fraud and conflict of interest claims.

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The L.A. Times on the latest in the unfolding scandal:

[D.A. Steve] Cooley also said investigators were looking at whether council members had received pay for meetings they did not attend or meetings that lasted only a few minutes. Most of the pay that Bell council members received came not from their City Council salaries, but as stipends for serving on the boards of city panels, such as the Public Financing, Surplus Property, and Solid Waste and Recycling authorities. City records indicate that those boards performed little work and that their business was routinely conducted during council meetings. In some cases, the board meetings would last no more than a minute, according to the records.

Monday night, board members agreed to cut their pay from all sources by roughly 90%, to about $8,000 a year.

And Bell officials troubles are coming from the state level as well, not just from L.A. county lawmen:

Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, announced Monday that his office has subpoenaed hundreds of documents from Bell as it looks into the city's high salaries.

Also Tuesday, state Controller John Chiang, a Democrat seeking reelection, announced at a news conference at Bell City Hall that his office would audit the city's finances. He called the salaries and pensions for city officials "unjustifiable" and said his office will be "taking a hard look at the books."

The Times story features allegations of city officials passing out and collecting absentee ballots and instructing voters how they should vote. More on the absentee ballot fraud allegations. The three highest paying Bell officials--with salaries ranging from $376,000 to $787,000--are already resigning, but still liable to collect huge pensions.

Kevin Roderick at KCRW blames local media apathy and laziness for not focusing enough on municipal corruption problems in L.A. county's smaller cities.

Earlier this week, a Bell City Council meeting found many angry citizens wanting not just pay cuts for their errant politicians, but resignations from all of them. Reason.tv (owned by the Reason Foundation, a think tank that also owns Reason magazine, which I work for as a senior editor) produced a video account of the meeting and the angry citizens:

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