The ‘Bell’ is ringing, but is it putting the Santa Ana Council on notice?

On Tuesday we had the following rolling across banner headlines on the LA Times, The OC Register, and even national news sites: Eight Bell leaders arrested. 

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. 

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. 

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. He was booked into Los Angeles County jail and was being held on $3.2-million bail. Read More. 

There is no doubt that these officials, elected and appointed city managers, have participated in, as Steve Cooley said today, a case of  “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.  If you screw around and try to game the system, you will (eventually) get caught. 

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. 

Sal Tinajero - "I didn't know."

Our District Attorney doesn’t usually 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. While OC DA Tony Rackauckas has no problem firing Deputy DA Todd Spitzer for calling the Public Administrator/Guardian about a pending case, he would not dare raise the issue of illegal voting on projects benefiting the political contributors of Michele Martinez, Sal Tinajero, or Claudia Alvarez to the same high standard of ethics.  

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. 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. 

Councilwoman Michele Martinez

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: 

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. 

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. 

Claudia Alvarez and Miguel Pulido

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. 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 that “We’re not the City of 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 the city council to crawl through; I have a new slogan for Santa Ana that the City Council should consider adopting,

“Santa Ana: We’re in a League of Our Own.”

  6 comments for “The ‘Bell’ is ringing, but is it putting the Santa Ana Council on notice?

  1. Gullible voter
    September 23, 2010 at 10:30 am

    But I thought that Measure D with its provisions to extend council member terms and Code of Ethics was going to solve the problem of special interests in City Hall. WTF?

  2. jose s.
    September 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    having joseph fletcher “review” any wrongdoing is like having a big fat rat watch a block of cheese.

  3. Al Simmons
    September 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Should the Santa Ana city attorney really be the one to investigate anything?
    He’s the one who would have advised those council members in the first place, he was present at all of the improper votes and didn’t say anything to intervene or suggest to the council members what conflicts might exist, and he has no investigative authority or way to remedy the issue.
    Since the city attorney serves at the pleasure of the council and they approve his contract and review his performance, he has a financial interest in not busting the council members that are in violation and has a conflict of interest in investigating these votes. In Bell, the council members could not have engaged in the level of fraud they did without the city manager and city attorney involvement.

    Already Sal Tinajero and Michelle Martinez have admitted they took money at the time of the soccer vote, which is a crime as defined in the Santa Ana charter, but the city attorney has yet to file charges even though he is aware of this crime. What’s he waiting for?
    In the OC Register article and press releases by Sal Tinajero and Michele Martinez, both said they went to the mayor and asked for a special meeting to correct the vote. Not only did that NOT happen, but at the next council meeting last Monday, they completely failed to make any corrections or even mention the corrupted vote. It appears they are just trying to sweep it all under the rug.
    The residents of Santa Ana deserve a proper investigation of these improper votes. The city is not capable of investigating itself and coming up with an honest unbiased version of the facts, especially if they then have to prosecute some of their own city leadership.

  4. Lisann Martinez
    September 23, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Wouldn’t it be a conflict of interest for him to charge them with a crime, he is the Attorney (Consigliere for the Gang in Santa Ana)and Dave Ream the Godfather. The DA is suppose to charge them with the crime. Since Claudia works for the DA’s Office, It is up to the Attorney General (Jerry Brown) to file charges.

    Not even the Grand Jury is worth a &*%#. These people have to do the right thing, if anyone is going to have faith in the system. It seems like it is not what you know it is who you know in Santa Ana.

  5. Cook
    September 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Is it civil or criminal?

    In Bell the state AG has a civil suit going and the County has a criminal suit.

  6. art lomeli
    September 25, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    The residents of Santa Ana are the affected group here. They are also the employers of the council and staff. The council serves for the benefit of the residents. If the council fails at their resident appointed responsibilities then it is the residents who should remove them independent from any criminal prosecution by other voter appointed public servants.

    Bell residents took the initiative and forced their council out. Santa Ana residents should act on their anger and do the same. These transaction happen and continue because the public lets public servants get away with ripping them off.

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