On TuesdayÂ we had the following rolling across banner headlines on the LA Times, The OC Register, and even national news sites: Eight Bell leaders arrested.Â
Eight current and former Bell city leaders were arrested Tuesday on charges of misappropriating more than $5.5 million from the small, working-class community as prosecutors accused them of treating the city’s coffers as their personal piggy bank.Â
The charges follow months of nationwide outrage and renewed debate over public employee compensation since The Times reported in July that the city’s leaders were among the nation’s highest paid municipal officials.Â
Among those charged was former City Manager Robert Rizzo, who led the way with an annual salary and benefits package of more than $1.5 million. Prosecutors accused him of illegally writing his own employment contracts and steering nearly $1.9 million in unauthorized city loans to himself and others.Â He was booked into Los Angeles County jail and was being held on $3.2-million bail. Read More.Â
There is no doubt that these officials, elected and appointed city managers, have participated in,Â as Steve Cooley said today, a case ofÂ Â ”corruption on steroids.” Their actions are disgusting and have cast a dark shadow over all public officials, both good and bad. This case needs to serve as a warning to elected officials across the state — you are elected for public service and not personal profit.Â If you screw around and try to game the system,Â you will (eventually) get caught.Â
The actions of the officials arrested today from the city of Bell have caused many in the media, including myself, to compare their actions to those of our local elected officials. Headlines like Huntington Beach Gave Police Chief $100,000 Forgivable Loan, and Campaign money raises questions over Santa Ana vote don’t help prevent those comparisons. While the people of Bell are lucky that their Republican District Attorney is running for State Attorney General, we do not have that luxury of opportunism in Orange County.Â
Our District Attorney doesn’t usuallyÂ investigate such things. In the case of Santa Ana, he will most likely punt to the Attorney General the fact that Council members have accepted campaign contributions both before and after their votes from developers of the projects they voted upon, because one of those council members is Deputy District Attorney Claudia Alvarez. WhileÂ OCÂ DAÂ Tony Rackauckas has no problem firing DeputyÂ DA Todd Spitzer for calling the PublicÂ Administrator/Guardian about a pending case, he would notÂ dare raise the issue ofÂ illegal voting on projects benefiting theÂ political contributors of Michele Martinez, Sal Tinajero, or Claudia AlvarezÂ to the same high standard of ethics.Â Â
Terry Francke over at the Voice of OC has some timely suggestions for elected officials and candidates seeking office in his commentary titled: Taking the Sunshine Pledge.Â It probably should be required reading, right after committing to memory the generally accepted ethical principle of not taking campaign contributions in return for your votes.Â
So while the issues of ‘pay to play’ voting in Santa Ana do not rise to the same level of the scandal as in the city of Bell, make no mistake they are still examples of corruption and still wrong. In fact, Santa Ana, is in a ‘league of its own.’ Doug Irving followed up on this issue on Tuesday in his story City looking into council contributions. Irving wrote:Â
The city attorney is reviewing several thousand dollars of campaign contributions given to City Council members by real-estate developers and brokers who later won key roles in a major redevelopment project.Â
City law appears to disqualify the votes of two council members because they accepted campaign money from companies with a financial stake in the outcome. Without them, the council did not have the votes to approve the project.Â
I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the Santa Ana City Attorney to find some sort of wrong-doing here. He reports to the City Council. In fact they just discussed his performance evaluation on Monday in closed session.Â Funny thing, they didn’t even mention their improper votes at this first meeting since their revelation.
Whether it is through restricting dissent from the public by intimidating and silencing speakers during public comment, removing City Commissioners like Jeff Dickman and Tish Leon, or blocking the appointment of other city commissioners, because they objected to their vision for the Station District (apparently bought and paid for by the project developers), at least five city council members (Pulido, Tinajero, Martinez, Alvarez, and Sarmiento) seem willing to stop at nothing to get their way. The more these people protest thatÂ “We’re not the City ofÂ Bell,” the less I believe them.
So while we are waiting for Santa Ana City Attorney Joe Fletcher to find a rabbit hole for three members of theÂ city council to crawl through;Â I have a new slogan for Santa Ana that the City Council should consider adopting,