As Bell councilmember holds onto his job, residents await appointment of city monitor

By Steven Piper
Staff Writer

Turmoil over the City of Bell’s leadership continues as the interim city administrator of that city, Pedro Carillo, overcame a city council effort to fire him last week.
Councilmember Lorenzo Velez, the only representative who had not been earning an inordinately high salary, suggested the dismissal of Carillo because of his close ties with Robert Rizzo, the former city manager whose salary was over $800,000.
Had Carillo stepped down, leadership would have been passed to Mayor Oscar Hernandez, one of the eight corrupt officials who were arrested Sept. 21 after a grand-jury investigation revealed that officials were being paid exorbitant salaries.
In the meantime, reports have indicated that the City will not receive a court-ordered monitor, which was requested in a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Office. Apparently, Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien ruled in a five-page document issued last Monday that installing a state administrator would set a precedent and therefore more clarification is needed as to the role and duties of such a position.
The monitor was to be selected from a pool of six candidates, three of whom were to be selected by the City and three chosen by the Attorney General’s Office. “Each side would have three selections, and they would discuss them together and pick one,” said Jim Finefrock, director of communications for the Attorney General’s Office. (The City was unresponsive to the Signal Tribune’s phone calls inquiring about its candidate choices.)
The Attorney General’s Office selected its three potentials and refused to disclose who they are and how they were chosen. “In the court documents, there are not any specific requirements,” Finefrock said. In the meantime, the City had not selected its candidates and missed numerous deadlines to submit those names.
Meanwhile, Signal Hill City Attorney Dave Aleshire has continued to work pro bono for BASTA, a grassroots citizens group advocating for the recall of the corrupt officials. “BASTA is setting up a process for people who are interested in being candidates for offices so they can seek endorsement,” Aleshire said. While residents can run for open council seats, they could not, however, run for the monitor position. The attorney general and the City had exclusive control over the monitor selection process.
BASTA representative Christina Garcia said the group tried to make its voice heard. “We asked for someone who is bilingual and not a politician,” said Garcia. “We made those requests, but that does not mean they will be met.” The City’s population is reported to be 90-percent Latino or Hispanic.
Before the judge’s ruling, Signal Hill City Manager Ken Farfsing said the appointment of a monitor was stalled because the process is a new one for the City of Bell. “I think the judge is struggling with that whole idea because it would set a precedent,” Farfsing said. In other words, a municipality has never hosted a state-appointed administrator.
Monitors, however, have been utilized in school districts. “The monitor comes in and runs the school district until the district can get up and on its feet,” Farfsing said. “The only example we have is school districts in our area, like Compton Unified School District.” In 1993, Compton Unified School District (CUSD) became the nation’s first school district under state receivership for academic and financial bankruptcy.
According to the California Department of Education, the state loaned CUSD $20 million and installed a state administrator– responsible for returning the district to a financially and academically functional condition, which did not occur until 2003.
Receivership, however, has typically been reserved for debtors declaring bankruptcy. Even in the bankruptcy scenario, a California city has never received a state administrator to oversee its affairs. “In the case of bankruptcy, the city manager and judge are put entirely in control, which occurred in the City of Vallejo,” Farfsing said. “Bell has not declared bankruptcy.”

This story is the second in a series.

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