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Bell hires new city attorney amid turmoil

August 4, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
It has become business as usual at Bell City Hall. Outraged residents take to the podium and berate their City Council. At Wednesday night's emergency council meeting, relatives of Deputy Mayor Teresa Jacobo got into a shouting match with others in the audience. Her relatives were escorted out and the meeting continued without Jacobo.

But in between the outbursts and admonitions, City Council announced that they had hired an interim city attorney. The law firm that had been providing legal services for the city severed its ties with the city. James Casso was hired during closed session.

"Perhaps it's a daunting challenge, but I get my thrills out of daunting challenges, so it's OK with me," Casso said.

A second motion to hire a consulting company to take over as city manager was postponed after outraged residents demanded more time to review the $175,000 contract.

Meanwhile, residents continued to demand that members of the council resign from their posts.

Marcileno Ceja has lived in Bell for 17 years. He's not only demanding that Bell's city council members resign, he wants them criminally prosecuted.

"These folks are going to have to answer not just to Bell, to California, to the rest of the nation, because this is an outrage," Ceja said. "These guys are thieves. They stole our money.

"They think they are going to continue to run our city, and that's not going to happen," he added.

The controversy started last month, when it was revealed that top city administrators were pulling down six-figure salaries. City Manager Robert Rizzo was making nearly $800,000 a year, the assistant city manager was paid just over $375,000 a year and the police chief had a salary of more than $450,000.

Eventually, all three resigned, but now the attention is on the council members who approved the salaries.

"We want to put honest people in here, and we want to take charge ourselves," said one Bell resident. "If they can't do it, they need to go."

Four of five city council members were making nearly $100,000 a year for their part-time jobs. Last week, they agreed to slash their salaries by 90 percent, but that's not enough for some residents.

Now it appears that California's state pension fund learned about the big pay raises in Bell, but did nothing to stop them.

In a written statement issued Wednesday by CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco, the pension system said they did nothing wrong.

The statement said, "Our focus has and remains the legitimacy of these salaries working with the AG's office. Our job is to enforce the statutes that govern the retirement law. Pay and compensation is the decision of city and county elected officials."


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