Bell Scandal Provokes Legislative Remedies in Sacramento
The California legislators who represent the city of Bell, Senator Ron S. Calderon and Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, are taking different approaches when it comes to making decisions regarding legislation that aim to address the city’s corruption.
Senator Calderon’s communications director, Bob Jimenez says the senator is waiting until the trials for the Bell officials suspected of misappropriating public funds are finished to make any decisions regarding legislation.
“[Senator Calderon] wants to hear all the facts that come out in the trials to find out what legislation needs to be passed, if any,” Jimenez said.
Six Bell city officials were ordered to stand trial in February on charges of misappropriating public funds and giving themselves inflated salaries; including the former city manager, Robert Rizzo, who was making almost $800,000 per year.
Calderon, along with Kevin DeLeon, who was then the assemblyman representing Bell, co-opted a bill passed last fall, AB 900, which gave $2 million in property taxes that were “improperly collected,” back to Bell property owners. Jimenez said that money would have otherwise been put into education in the city.
“[Calderon] knew the taxpayers should be reimbursed,” Jimenez said, “but he hasn’t decided whether or not [more] laws need to be passed.”
Jimenez said he does not know how closely Calderon has been following the trials, but says that he “keeps him up to date,” and tells him if and when anyone is released.
Assemblyman Ricardo Lara’s communication director, Julia Juarez, says Lara is currently working on six bills that will directly affect Bell. She says most of the legislation is aimed at making the city government more transparent.
“You’ll have an auditor and a controller coming in to check on the city’s finances to make sure everything is in order so that this can’t happen again,” she said.
Juarez says one of the biggest issues Lara is working on now is an emergency legislation that will allow the city council members to ratify the election results after Bell’s March 8 election. Bell’s current city council members would have had to ratify the results for the new city council members following the election. But Juarez says that because the judge on the Bell trials ordered the current city council members to stay away from Bell, emergency legislation must be passed so the results may be ratified without them.
Juarez said that like Senator Calderon, Assemblyman Lara may pass additional legislation when the trials end.
“We’re looking at the trials closely,” she said. “We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of [them].”
Assemblyman Ricardo Lara’s 2011 legislation for Bell:
AB 187 - State Auditor: High-Risk Local Government
This bill would expand the State Auditor’s high-risk authorities to apply to local government agencies and will require the auditor to consult with the State Controller, Attorney General, and other state agencies in identifying high-risk local government agencies.
Currently the State Auditor can establish a high-risk government agency audit program. The program identifies audits, and issues reports on any agency of the state that the State Auditor identifies as being at high risk for potential of waste, fraud, and abuse. AB 187 expands the high-risk authorities to apply to local government agencies.
AB 229 – Independent Audit Oversight
AB 229 would increase the number of quality control reviews the Controller can perform of independent, private auditors hired by local governments to prepare their annual audits.
Modeled after the audit guidelines established by the Controller’s Office for local education agencies, AB 229 requires the Controller’s Office to consult with audit firms and representatives from the cities and counties as the guidelines for independent audits are developed. In addition, the State Controller’s Office will require that all financial, state compliance and single audits of all governments be submitted for review to ensure compliance with the audit guidelines.
AB 1355 - City Officials: Professional Standards
This bill would require the SOS in consultation with the Controller and the League of Cities to develop and set forth recommendations for minimal education and certification standards for city clerks, city manager, and city treasurer, whether elected or appointed, and to post those standards on the Secretary of State website.
AB 1350 - Tax Increase Certification
This bill would require the county auditor prior to the collection of property tax to verify that the rate imposed by the city does not exceed the maximum rate authorized by law. The bill requires the district to provide the county auditor with any documentation necessary to assist the county auditor in making the verification.
AB 1340 - Repayment of Sewage Assessment Fees
This bill would require the Sanitation and Sewerage System District in the City of Bell to return all funds attributable to unlawful increases in assessment rates approved and charged during 2007-2010 to all those affected.
AB 1345 – Lack of Quorum Appointment Process
The intent of this bill is to create an appointment process to appoint members to serve on the governing board or council of a local government in the absence of a quorum. It may be modeled after Government Code Section 25060 – 25062 which describes the Governor’s appointment process when there is a vacancy on the board of supervisors.
Reach reporter Kamille Simmons here.