Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities: Maywood CA and Bell CA

Here's a story I've held off on posting until I had all the facts.

To my readers, I apologize for not posting sooner but I
wanted to be accurate above all else before I went to press.

What you are about to read should shock the daylights
out of you. It puts the tales of New York's Tammany Hall
to shame and makes Chicago's Democratic machine
look like the rankest amateurs.

And if that upsets you, it should - because this is a tale of
EPIC Public Corruption unlike any I am aware of in recent
history - a sad tale for the local residents involved, but a
cautionary one for the rest of us.

It is a salient example of what happens when a community
ceases to be vigilant about its governance. And just because
this story involves local government, it makes no difference.
The same thing can happen at the state or national level, far
more easily than we might imagine.

Here's the story:

It begins in the city of Maywood, California last May, when,
in the preparation of its annual budget for the 2011 fiscal
year, the city received a notice from its liability insurers
that its premium for liability coverage of its employees
(including the Police Dept.) would triple, to approximately
$1.5 million per year.

Now Maywood is a close-in suburb of Los Angeles, but let
me assure you, Beverly Hills it is not. It is a city of about
40,000 people, 90% Hispanic, 60% foreign born, with
a per capita income of about $36,000 per year - about
half that of Los Angeles County in general. Which means
that they're not exactly flush with cash.

So after first considering merely doing away with their
police department, which was facing several lawsuits
over "police abuse", they came up with an even better idea -
to do away with the notion of city employees entirely -
and outsource everything.

First, they outsourced law enforcement to the L.A. County
Sheriff's Department, saving approximately $ 4 million a
year in the process. Next came Public Works, Parks and
Recreation, even parking enforcement - all services for
which they found eager private sector bidders, saving
even more money.

The last thing the Maywood City Council did was to
contract out the administration of the city itself to
the neighboring city of Bell, at a monthly payment
of $50,000 - about two-thirds of the previous expense.

So far, so good - Happy citizens and taxpayers in Maywood.

But here's where it gets interesting. The Los Angeles Times,
no friend of outsourcing or the Private Sector in general,
decided to investigate and compare Bell and Maywood - two
adjoining cities with similar demographics, to see what
lessons could be learned.

And what they found blew the roof off.

The City Manager of Bell, one Robert Rizzo, was
being paid $ 787,000 annually - almost twice as much
as President Obama and three times the salary of
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Police Chief
Randy Adams was paid $ $457,000 per year - or twice
the salary of L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck. And
assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia was paid
$ 376,000 per year - more than any other municipal
executive (except for Rizzo) in the State of California.
And it goes on from there.

The seven Bell City council members, who are part time
and paid $700 per month, also are eligible to sit on up to
sixteen different city Boards and Commissions - the City
Recycling Authority, the City Planning Commission, and
so forth. In return, they can earn up to $1,000 per month
additional for each different board they sit on.

But most of these boards are "ghost" authorities - in fact,
last year most of them met for only One Minute Per Month -
this according to California Public Records Act disclosures
which the Times uncovered. And six of the seven councilmen
occupied all these positions, making their total compensation
over $100,000 annually for part-time work.

Even so, the Times managed to uncover one honest man -
newly appointed Councilman Lorenzo Velez, who earned
only his $700 monthly for attending City Council meetings.

The reason he wasn't also on the gravy train? He replaced a
councilman who resigned after unspecified accusations of
wrongdoing, but who after resigning was given a full-time
city job at Bell's food bank and kept his membership on
six of the "ghost" commissions - this despite an ordinance
that specifies only sitting council members can be on these

The upshot? The Bell City Council meeting yesterday was
jammed with irate voters demanding the resignation of Mayor
Oscar Hernandez ( a part-timer making $150,000 per year), Rizzo,
Adams, Spaccia, and the entire council except for Velez. A group
has formed to circulate petitions for a recall election. Others
are preparing to file suit demanding an audit of city finances,
which hasn't been done for the last two years despite California
law to the contrary. And there's still more. It appears that three
of the part-time council members own businesses whose principal
function is contracting with the City for "unspecified services".

Both the Los Angeles County Attorney and the State
Attorney General's office are investigating, and late yesterday
came word that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of
California will open an investigation for violations of the
Federal Public Corruption Act.

For the unfortunate residents of Bell, help can't come
soon enough. And it's even more galling that the
corrupt council members and city executives appeared
to be taking advantage of the "Patron" culture which
the mostly Hispanic and foreign-born residents grew up in.

In the Hispanic culture, the "Patron" or political leader, is
expected to be corrupt, and to lavishly line his pockets in
return for shouldering the great responsibilities of governance.
In return, he is also expected to disburse cash, favors, and
considerations ("Las Mordidas") to deserving members of the

But there wasn't very much flowing downward to the ordinary
people, it seems - just to the regular employees and their
unions, who regularly turned out at election time to keep
the incumbents in office.

Regardless of what ultimately happens, (and I expect that
some Bell city councilmen and managers will ultimately be
guests at the Crossbar Hotel or Club Fed), this should be a
warning. Where Government and Tax Dollars are concerned,
voters won't get what they expect - only what they inspect.

And the solution to problems like this? Not recall elections
and criminal investigations, but pitchforks and torches,
tar and feathers, and trees and boiled rope.


  1. This is a big story in California. Bell and Maywood had disasters happen to them. Outrage and criminal proceedings are the order of the day.

  2. I quote from the book Tammany Hall by M.R. Warner (Garden City Pub. Co., 1932)

    "We think it is quite true now as when old President Dwight said it, that although every Democrat is not a horse-thief, it is quite certain that every horse- thief is a Democrat." [quoted in the N.Y. Times October 3, 1870]