Lead Story The Press

Bell rises from ashes of municipal scandal

BELL — Seven years after being catapulted into the national spotlight by the largest municipal corruption scandal in the country, the city of Bell celebrated its 90th anniversary and looked toward the future.

In 2010, former City Manager Robert Rizzo, Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia and four city council members were arrested and charged with misappropriation of public funds. At the time of his arrest, Rizzo was receiving $787,637 in compensation, almost double the salary of the president of the United States.

In the end, seven city officials were convicted on graft and corruptions charges and were given sentences ranging from probation to 12 years in prison.

Today, with a new city government in place, Bell is striving to put the past behind. One of the major initiatives the city has put in place is transparency and economic development.

At the Bell’s 90th anniversary Breakfast Celebration and State of the City Address Nov. 4, City Manager Howard Brown spoke about the measures Bell has installed to ensure accountability.

“We have a state-of-the-art website where all of the city’s documentation is posted,” he said. “Every year, we post our salary and public benefit information, so the public is aware. Our city council meetings are streamed live online, so people can watch them live or download them.”

He noted that many of the transparency laws that are currently in effect at the state level were put into place following the Bell scandal.

Bell was awarded with a “Sunny Award” for its efforts by the nonprofit Sunshine Review, a national organization that advocates for increased government transparency.

Bell has developed a master plan to revitalize its major thoroughfares and intersections. With new zoning laws in place, the city is in negotiations with its first brewery on Gage Avenue and Pine Avenue. New landscaping, retail and commercial development is also in the works for the downtown area.

Homelessness and providing employment resources are major priorities. Bell partnered with the Salvation Army to construct a multi-story permanent housing complex for the homeless and veterans.

Officials also negotiated with the Los Angeles Unified School District to bring the Richard Slawson Southeast Occupational Center to the city. The center offers training in vocational industries such as cosmetology, automotive repair and computer science.

“My hope for the city of Bell is that for our 100th anniversary, the world will see the city of Bell for what it is: a community filled with hard-working people that are worth their weight in gold,” Vice Mayor Ana Maria Quintana said.