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Bell activists pressing council for changes

July 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Marching through the streets of Bell on Sunday, residents personally delivered their message to the very leaders they said stole their hard-earned money. Protesters demanded resignations of top officials in Bell. They want to see the mayor and three council members step down.

"I've lived here 35 years and enough is enough," said Bell resident Irene Gonzalez. "We've put up with a lot. It's time for them to go."

"We're all very disgusted with what's happened," said another Bell resident marching, Roger Ramirez. "(The story is) not only local, but it has become global and we're embarrassed by it."

More than 200 residents walked to the home of Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez, his business and to the homes of other city council members.

Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), authored the 2005 bill that limits city councils' salaries. It's the same year Bell became a charter city and became exempt from the law.

"I've been looking into legislation that we can do around the issue of charter cities, around the issue of pensions ... so that you don't get these crazy situations where the tax payers are completely being ripped off," De La Torre said.

Meanwhile, residents are demanding that city leaders immediately reduce their $100,000 salaries by 90 percent or resign.

"People are ripping off the city, we've got so many poor people out here," said protester Daniel Herrera. "The whole thing is just a big scam."

The council members are the latest target for residents. Last week, after public outcry, the Bell city manager, his assistant, the chief of police resigned.

All three were some of the highest paid city officials in the country, including now former City Manager Robert Rizzo, who made nearly $800,000 a year.

Christina Garcia said the city's reform is just getting started. Her group, the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, wants a third party to conduct a forensic audit of the city official's hefty pensions.

"We're hoping that through a forensic audit, maybe some illegal activity will come forth to give the grounds to invalidate those contracts and invalidate those pensions," Garcia said. "

Since Bell became a charter city in 2005, Garcia said there's little that can be done to legally force council members to lower their salaries. She's now hoping that public pressure will be on full force at Monday's council meeting.

Members of BASTA, Spanish for "stop," handed out 10,000 flyers in Bell to raise awareness for the meeting.

None of the council members commented on Sunday's march.


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