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Trouble Grows For City Of Bell

Despite vowing greater transparency in the wake of a salary scandal, the city of Bell has been refusing to turn over public records to community activists, a sitting councilman and a newspaper, it was reported today.

“They continue to keep us in the dark,” Bell City Councilman Lorenzo Velez told the Los Angeles Times.

Velez has been critical of the high salaries paid to top Bell administrators and other city council members.

The city has been the object of public scrutiny and protests since top administrators’ salaries were made public last month, prompting the resignations of City Manager Robert Rizzo, who made nearly $800,000 a year, and two other highly paid officials.

The Times and others have requested records involving elections, budgets, city financing and salaries that typically are available for viewing at city halls, and sometimes can be found online.

According to state law, public records have to be made available for viewing.

While the city has filled some of The Times’ public records requests, it has not responded to the vast majority within the time limit set by the state Public Records Act.

The requests include such basic information as the salaries of Interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo and Finance Director Lourdes Garcia.

Bell’s lawyers have not responded to The Times’ attorney, and the newspaper reported that it was preparing to file a Public Records Act lawsuit to ask a judge to compel the city to disclose the public records.

The Times also reported that the city has been accused of unfairly towing and impounding cars.

According to Bell budget documents reviewed by The Times, the city generated at least $652,000 in revenue related to towing cars in the past fiscal year, which ended June 30.

The vast majority of that sum — $574,000 — was from what the document described as “unlicensed driver release” revenues. It was unclear exactly where that money came from, the newspaper reported.

Some Bell residents have complained about police being too aggressive about towing parked cars, and that officers have pulled over motorists and towed away their vehicles if drivers don’t have licenses.

Bell has a large immigrant population, including many illegal immigrants.

Cristina Garcia, a member of the Bell Association To Stop the Abuse, said that the city’s fees are too high. Residents are “paying up to $500 in towing and storage fees,” Garcia said.

A former Bell police officer, who filed a wrongful dismissal suit against the city last week, complained to city leaders in 2009 that the police department was towing cars to generate revenues.

KESQ News Team

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