Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bell: A Public Burning For Our Troubled Times?

When I was a kid there was a book that really seized my youthful imagination. Written by a fellow named Robert Coover, it was called The Public Burning. I don't want to give away the plot, but the basic premise of this book is that in order to overcome what was at the time a great defeat for this nation, many experienced a need to focus their grievances and pain upon something. In this case it was a couple of decidedly unloved individuals, who were arrested and later executed. The tragedy being the theft of America's nuclear secrets by the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the focus of our nation's wrath the atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Both of whom died rather horribly in the electric chair.

Now I would never want to make it seem that I am in any way sympathetic to the plight of the 8 City of Bell officials who were rounded up and perp walked into Steve Cooley's world of tabloid infamy yesterday. Local pols that rob and cheat their constituents are certainly not in any way sympathetic or worthy of our pity. And obviously this is about the worst bunch of crooks imaginable right now. And talk about unattractive people, you just couldn't invent any more couture challenged chumps.

But let me ask you this. Has the Bell 8 become the focus of so much anger because their crimes are decidedly different from anything else going on in this state right now? Are they guilty of outrageous acts that haven't been seen in years? Or can it be that their crimes, while certainly extreme, are not without at least some similarities to what many people suspect is going on in their own communities. And that perhaps the eagerness of certain powerful individuals in Sacramento and Los Angeles County to take these bad dudes down has more to do with finding suitable fall guys than anything else. People who will answer for government corruption that is far more ingrained than our esteemed public guardians will ever care to acknowledge.

To me it seems as if the usual politicians want to make it appear that they're going after local government corruption without really dirtying their hands by doing something about it. And rather than prosecuting corruption in its many forms and degrees in cities throughout the state, they're giving us a show trial instead. The Bell 8 could very well become our own public burning, and in the process help governments all over the state atone for their own sins free of any deserved suffering.

Or, to make another analogy, the sharks are now eating the minnows. And in an election year, no less. We mustn't forget that.

The Wall Street Journal had this rather pungent observation to make yesterday.

Mr. Cooley said most of the arrests were without incident. However, a battering ram was used to enter the house of Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez who was "a little slow" in answering the door, Mr. Cooley said at a press conference Tuesday. Bail for Mr. Rizzo, who stepped down in July after the pay scandal broke in the Los Angeles Times, was set at $3.2 million.

The criminal charges come on the heels of a civil suit filed against former and current Bell officials last week by California Attorney General Jerry Brown seeking to recover millions in salaries and pension benefits from Bell officials. Mr. Brown agreed to file civil charges while Mr. Cooley pursued criminal charges.

Both men are in the midst of political campaigns. Mr. Cooley is the Republican candidate to succeed Mr. Brown as attorney general. Mr. Brown is the Democratic candidate for governor. Each have been accused by opponents of using the Bell scandal to burnish their election campaigns.

And then there is this from the Christian Science Monitor:

In addition to boosting awareness of government overreach, the Bell scandal may have provided election fodder for Brown, who is in a dead heat in the race for governor with weeks to go.

"What Jerry Brown is doing in Bell is standard operating procedure for him," says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. He's using the scandal "to promote himself but also to solve an important governmental problem."

"Jerry Brown is doing what office-holders usually do: leverage their official duties for maximum media attention, says (Claremont McKenna political scientist) Jack Pitney. "It won't make much difference in November, but at least it diverts attention from his awkward comment about President Clinton."

Legal evens it up politically for us with this report:

Democratic candidate for California Attorney General Kamala Harris is calling for "immediate action" following revelations that her opponent has accepted campaign contributions from those he's currently investigating. On Monday, a Los Angeles Times article revealed Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Republican, accepted funds from those who were close to targets of inquiry in Bell Gardens and City of Industry.

"Following yet another troubling disclosure about L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley in the Los Angeles Times, Democratic nominee for Attorney General Kamala Harris will call for immediate action regarding campaign contributions Cooley has accepted from people under investigation by his own office for corruption," the San Francisco district attorney's campaign announced on Tuesday.

"Last week, LA Weekly revealed that Cooley has taken laundered campaign contributions from an ex-felon. Cooley's reply was the same: He won't give back the money or ask for an independent investigation - after all, the money has been spent and the statute of limitations has expired," her campaign said in a statement.

You have to wonder if the Bell 8 would have ever been arrested at all if they'd had the good sense to get out of town until after this November's elections.

Don't forget to bring matches.


  1. Perhaps they'll bring Pasadena's new Bearcat to arrest the CC-1.

  2. Now we know what the real crime of the Boys From Bell is. They didn't give enough money to Steve Cooley.

  3. Remember boys and girls they were elected by the voters of Bell. You get what paid for.

  4. I read voter turnout in Bell was around 5%. That number makes Sierra
    Madre seem like a hotbed of voter interest.

  5. Some of Sierra Madre's current and ex council members also have committed crimes against the residents. Their cover up continues.

  6. In the grand scheme of things, the lines of demarcation between innocence and guilt start to blurr. But politics is of the moment. In this moment the image of Ratzo Rizzo taken away from his beach home in handcuffs, haunts the imagination of every corrupt city council from Bell and Vernon to Sierra Madre. There is momentum now that needs to be used.

  7. If you stood Jerry Brown and Ratzo Rizzo next to each other they'd look like Abbott and Costello.

  8. The city of Bell has always been corrupt. It goes back to the days of Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Seigal.

    Sierra Madre has been suspect since the 1960's.
    Sierra Madre has been corrupt since Bart Doyle got in office and involved us in over-development and the Sacramento crooked politicians.

  9. Brown is a guy who went to seminary. Obviously has the discipline to keep that ascetic thing going on. And Mr. Rizzo looks very American, loving the couch, TV, and food that's bad for a body.

  10. I agree with you Mod, that all the finger pointing at Bell has blown up to such a size that a lot of smaller rats are scurrying to find positions while the clouds last....

  11. Honey, there's some people here to see youSeptember 22, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    Rizzo looks like he spent all that
    money on cheese.

  12. 7:11 and 7:18 have got it right.

    When you have voter apathy and people don't bother to decern what's truth and what isn't........incompetent, inept and sometimes criminals get elected to public office.

    Look what happened in the last Sierra Madre election.

  13. Why do I keep having flashes of the the Chevy Chase/Dan Akroyd movie "Nothing but Trouble"?

  14. This is not the first time American obesity has been in the spotlight. Or municipal corruption either. 7:11 and 7:19 are right that the lack of citizen participation in Bell is what allowed this orgy of greed, but we all know how much time and energy it takes to keep up with local government. It's a frustrating part time job. Especially frustrating in Sierra Madre where there ARE residents paying attention, and so the frauds and hustlers have to hide their agendas and say one thing while doing another. "We all love our village."

  15. dont think for a moment bart doyle originated corruption in sierra madre remember jim mcrea was indemnified when he resigned to pursue other interests so that he couldnt be prosecuted and the councils that served with him wouldnt be outed corruption in sierra madre politics isnt new just a different generation

  16. Honey, tell them I'm not homeSeptember 22, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    Bell is an extreme case that makes the more intelligently hidden corruption in a city like Sierra Madre pale in comparison.
    Doesn't mean it isn't going on.
    What's with the 20 plus million dollars in water bond debt?
    What's with a publicly exposed liar being mayor?
    What's with the hillsides being developed in disastrous places?
    What's with the voters not turning out?
    And when they do, why do they swallow smear campaigns?

  17. Too bad there isn't a picture on a front page somewhere of the ex Sierra Madre employee who destroyed records and then sued.

  18. I'm beginning to wonder what was destroyed as opposed to what was serendipitously pitched onto the blaze by staff and council eager to cover their misadventures... is that why the staffer sued?

  19. Where is Molly Ivins when you need herSeptember 22, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    Hope this sets off a wave of reform in the San Gabriel Valley cities, this is just the tip of the iceberg. At a smaller scale, it's typical of many small town good-ol'-boy setups. Financial tide is out, people are not able to support this kind of thing any more, so the cities end up having to clean up their acts. It's standard cub-reporter fare, as Molly Ivins liked to point out. She was a brilliant, humorous journalist who passed away in 2007. Copied from the Wikipedia article about her:

    Written from an unabashed liberal perspective, Ivins's style was peppered with colorful phrases to create the "feel" of Texas. When outraged by instances of what she considered malfeasance or stupidity on the part of public officials, she couched her argument in an air of stunned amusement. She enjoyed telling stories about the Texas Legislature, which she simply called "The Lege." She contended that it is one of the most corrupt, most incompetent, and funniest governing bodies in the nation—a well she dipped from on a regular basis. For example:

    Practice, practice, practice, that's what Texas provides when it comes to sleaze and stink. Who can forget such great explanations as "Well, I'll just make a little bit of money, I won't make a whole lot"? And "There was never a Bible in the room"?

  20. Those "Lost Documents" have certainly been a blessed convenience for those who would prefer people to just butt out. The DSP Worm Hole is an all purpose excuse. I fully expect it will come into play with the 2003 water bond mess.

  21. Bad Karma,

    Believe me some records can not be destroyed.

  22. Doesn't Sacramento track those kinds of bonds? I don;t see how anything could be hidden in a situation like that.

  23. Couldn't a good forensic accountant rebuild records, based on external sources?
    Expensive, yes, but worth it to finally know what the hell has gone on.

  24. Corruption is as corruption does. Slight of hand, follow the money, now you see it now you don't, the shell game, pay to play, consultant/lawyer webs, need to know, money never sleeps, are some of the tools that define the contempt the greedy use to fleece the taxpayer. From the halls of congress in Washington to the Wisteria Room in Sierra Madre they are there scheming to get at the money, your money, my money. This slide has been greased and regreased. The "BELL" tolls and it tolls for us.

  25. We need a water bond specific audit, particularly for 2003. MaryAnn asked for that to be agendized last Tuesday. Hopefully the City Council will authorize it next week.

  26. It will be VERY telling if the CC-1 fails to authorize a water bond audit. Walsh will lead with a little soft shoe followed by the moron telling us we need to give the Water Department a chance to complete the outreach dog and pony show. Buchanan will hem and haw, his expression that of frowning indignation that MaryAnn (and by implication Zimmerman, Crawford, Herrmann, and Delmer) are forcing the City to spend money on an audit. Mosca, who in no way will admit to any knowledge of the issue since his term started in 2006, will agendize something - perhaps asking staff to look at the postmarks on water bills for FY 2003. Telling times are upon the Council.

  27. Great posts today, Tattlers.

    Honey,Tell them I'm not Home, at 9:14. I especially liked your post!

    And yes, we sure do need an audit of the 1993 Bond Scam.

    Keep up the pressure, MacGillivray, Zimmerman, Crawford et all.

  28. 11:05 interesting predictions.

    I think we'll hear from all 4 about the audit not being a good idea because of "fiduciary responsibilities" "irresponsible spending" "legal ah hem matters requiring discretion" "fruitlessness of the task" and "don't cast aspersions on Karen and Elaine"

    Running underneath it all? Don't look, don't ask, don't tell.

  29. I think the whole Bell situation has such an impact on the Tat crowd is that there are only a handfull of people working daily to keep Sierra Madre City Hall transparent. Look what happens if the citizens don't keep a close watch on things. Some of us are getting burned out, yet keep at it so nothing like Bell and a few other cities happens. When will the other 90% of Sierra Madre citizens wake up?

  30. I love the smell of a Tattler story in the MorningSeptember 22, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    The Rosenbergs were quilty. We needed the burning moment when Obama had the chance to prosecute the Bush family and friends. Brown went after Postmus and the Colonies Scandal. Brown is good at being the Attorney General and he won't stand a chance in the election. Cooley may get his in the end but at this point he has been elected three times and his peers & other attorneys, police seem to respect him. If California wasn't so broke over the abuse of bonds and the lies of redevelopment agencies there would be more of a budget for prosecuting
    lesser cases. On one level self preservation has realistically kicked in since the retirement pensions of most public employees has been lost, mismanaged, or badly invested,(those pesky secured derivatives) there is a hey wait a minute, maybe they were wrong, those outreach programs used when they promised the elected elite of the time, mass profits & beds of wine and roses, around the signing of the 1987 Bush Chinese Strategic Economic Agreement. Deerings Civil Code of the period between 1987 and 1992 reflect a total repeal and revision of the white collar prosecution laws. I handed one of my employers, the newly released book, "George Bush, The Mafia and the Cia." All the names of the people who had defrauded his 20 year hard built finance company, and walked chinese in to buy into his company so he could go public, were in that book. Financial Administrators, a man named Moon, Fast Forward 22 years Bush and Moon share adjoining properties in Paraquay. The book Defrauding America is true.

    I am more inclined to 8:02's keep the momentum going. I used to have that saying "People who love Sausage and love the Law should not watch either of them being made" on my desk. It is called the Sausage Principal.. We either prosecute white collar crime and recover our lost assets and money and land and state, or we are the sausage ingredients instead of the sausage grinders. Granted if Cooley is porky, then he will have his own confrontation with the grinder in the future. I have observed a marked increase in the exposing of political corruption. I want to believe it will continue and not just be a publicity stunt for a election.

  31. Just heard that Bell misapproiated $50 million in bond proceeds.

    Didn't Joe or John say that they knew about the bond problems? They probably should not have said that.
    Watch out Sierra Madre City Council.

    Nancy and Josh it is not to late to desert the sinking ship.

  32. It's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Don't forget it was the LA Times who got the information after a Public Records Act request. The prosecutors have to go after these people; it's so blatant, how could they not? I'm with you, Sir Eric, why not look into some of the less flashy, less extreme, but just as harmful conduct that undermines the democratic context of other local communities? Situations where the conditions aren't so obvious, but are just as harmful. You know what I mean . . .

  33. Popcorn moment Tuesday night: The CC discussion on whether or not to do a 2003 water bond audit. Body language experts are required to attend.

  34. How did the police chief get out of this one? He is just as guilty as the rest. Afterall, he was the highest paid police chief in the country. AND, you can't say he didn't have knowledge of the rest of th brat-pac salaries. Come someone lettin someone go cause of their status? UMMM

  35. It may be that the Police Chief didn't vote on the salary increases or authorize the loans... just getting a hefty salary isn't necessarily illegal.

  36. You're right. I agree with you. However it doesnt make it right to make almost $500,000 dollars per year, plus benefits. How can a trained law enforcement professional NOT know what was going on with his BOSS or the city government. Or was the chief simply playing, "I see no evil and I hear no evil". Please...This is exactly the reason why the police departments have lost public support,,,let alone trust.

  37. I think it is how people see the Bell scandal. Is it a unique event in peoples minds, or is it raising questions. I think that the powers that be are hoping people will see Bell as an anomaly. I certainly don't.

  38. re: Bell police chief, from LA Times 9/21:

    "Police Chief Randy Adams, who also stepped down after The Times reported he was earning $457,000, was not arrested.

    'Being paid excessive amounts is not a crime,' Cooley said, noting that the investigation is ongoing."

    But this LA Times article from 9/15 suggests the police chief was on the inside of what was going on:

    "In one memo between former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia and former Police Chief Randy Adams, the pair worked together to prepare Adams' employment contract with the city, the lawsuit alleges. Bell paid Adams $457,000 a year, about 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck or Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and more than double New York City's police commissioner."

    And this article from 14 minutes ago has even more dirt on the police chief. The entire article is about the scam arrangement the police chief had (was declared "disabled" even as he got the job?!).

    "Randy Adams had himself declared disabled even as he was hired for the job, a move that could make him millions in tax-free pension income when he retires, according to records and interviews.",0,5692302.story

    This thing may have legs. If it spreads to another city (Vernon), then the powers that be may not be able to contain it. Is someone going to lean on the reporters at the LA Times or will they let them explore?

    Methinks every city activist with a story about their city council is sending stuff to LA Times reporters. Will they follow or just do this "cover up" burning?

  39. The end of the article on Bell's ex-chief of police's (Adams) deal is great. Starbird is the City Manager of Glendale (where Adams worked prior to Bell). It shows how everybody knew:

    "Starbird said no one from Bell City Hall called him to inquire about Adams' disability claim or his suitability for the job. As someone who hired Adams six years before and continued to think highly of him, Starbird said, he had counseled Adams not to work for Bell because of its history of corruption.

    'I said, 'Why Bell?' and he said the package was too good to refuse,' Starbird recounted.

    'What's disappointing is that Randy didn't recognize this situation and that it was going to cast him and us in a bad light. There was a level of corruption in Bell that he capitalized on. He lost his values along the way.' "

    Rizzo must've thought he was the godfather. And he might still be today, if he hadn't gotten so greedy and it wasn't an election year.

    When someone who looks like this (chief of police with stars on his shoulder)
    get's arrested people may see it differently.

    This could become a forest fire if Cooley goes after the chief.

    But Cooley is leading in the polls now, so he doesn't need to go after Adams. If he starts to drop behind though -- don't rule out a dramatic arrest of Adams (although he would really have to be losing bad to break that prosecutor/police bond).

  40. Its a network out there. City Mgrs, Firemen, Police,know what are the opportunities. Disability plays a major role in "early retirement and pensions, (66% of "enhanced salary, tax free). The taxpayer has been scammed for millions, billions, with little oversight or challenge. Its Criminal!!!

  41. There is no more passive and accepting stupe than
    the California voter. Look at what all the choices he's
    made have got him.

  42. It keeps getting worse: property illegally purchased by the city of Bell from a former mayor, million-dollar payments to 2 development firms owned by the city's Director of Planning Services. We'll have the whole playbook by the time this is over with.