The New City Of Bell, California - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

From Anchor Tony McEwing

The New City Of Bell, California

Posted: Updated:

The small city of Bell is now one step closer to healing from a political corruption scandal more illustrative of old time Chicago than small town America. Having been born and raised in Chicago, I can say that. A jury found disgraced former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia guilty of most of the counts with which she was charged, including misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest and hiding public records.  Her trial and verdicts come on the heels of former city manager Robert Rizzo pleading no contest to 69 felonies, effectively abandoning Spaccia to be ground to dust under the heavy wheels of the criminal justice system. At one point, Spaccia's salary in the tiny blue collar city was well in excess of $500,000, while Rizzo commanded a salary that approached $2-million. To put that in perspective, Spaccia's salary was more than $150,000 higher than the President of the United States. Bell has a population of under 40,000 while the U.S. is closer to 300 million. Both Spaccia and Rizzo are likely to spend a good amount of time behind bars for their crimes.

What happened in Bell not only turned a spotlight on one of the worst public corruption cases in memory, it has apparently sparked a number of reforms in that city which other municipalities would do well to note.

According to the new city mayor, Rizzo left Bell a staggering $100-million dollars in debt three years ago. City officials say they have now cut that by more than half and have passed the first balanced budget in more than two decades.

If true, that alone is an amazing accomplishment. But there's more. Much more. The city has reportedly come up with a plan to pay off the rest of its debt. Not only that, but it is projected to have a budget reserve of 14% by next year. What's more, a couple of years ago, the city refunded nearly $3-million dollars to property owners.

Hold on. It gets better. City officials say an outside accounting firm has now conducted three past due financial audits since the scandal broke in 2010. Town hall meetings to keep residents informed of city operations are now a regular occurrence. And to enhance transparency even more, the city completely revamped its website to provide the public access to information it should have had all along, including how much city officials are paid.

We can only hope that the difficult and painful lessons learned in Bell will serve as a warning to other cities and towns whose elected and appointed officials believe their actions will escape scrutiny. Maybe not. But we can still hope. Bell Councilmember Nestor Enrique Valencia was quoted as saying "The people of Bell have a new hero in the Spaccia Jury." That may be. It's just too bad that it took such monumental mismanagement and criminal misappropriation along with tens of millions of wasted taxpayer dollars before safeguards that should have been in place to begin with were finally enacted.

Tony McEwing co-anchors FOX 11 Morning News at 4:30 am and provides news updates for the Emmy award winning Good Day LA, broadcast weekdays from 7:00 - 10:00 am. He also co-anchors the FOX 11 10 am News and the FOX 11 News at Noon.
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