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A Close Eye on City Halls

March 07, 2003

Compton is only the latest city in Los Angeles County whose residents have been embarrassed to see some of their top public officials under arrest. And though the current and former officials in question protest their innocence, it's revealing that so few of the hard-pressed taxpayers in these cities display much sympathy for them.

On Tuesday, former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley, City Manager John D. Johnson II and three of the city's five council members, Amen Rahh, Delores Zurita and Yvonne Arceneaux, were arrested for allegedly misusing city credit cards. Among things they charged to their city accounts, according to investigators, were trips to Las Vegas, health club memberships, limousine services and even a visit to the dentist.

Attorneys for some of the officials say they repaid the city treasury. But even if none of the officials is ultimately convicted of a crime, any abuse of city-issued credit cards reflects a reckless attitude toward the use of public money.

Indeed, there's a growing frustration among voters in Compton and nearby cities like Carson, South Gate and Bell Gardens, all of which have suffered from lousy political representation.

Bradley had been posturing as the political boss of Compton for years. His narrow defeat by current Mayor Eric Perrodin in 2001 was the first sign that voters in that city had grown weary of his act. In a similar way, voters in South Gate recently tired of constant scandals in their City Hall and recalled city Treasurer Albert Robles, who also fancied himself a political boss, and two of his City Council allies.

Voting the rascals out is, of course, the easiest solution when government is run ineptly or dishonestly. But where corruption may be involved, there is also a need for vigilance by other public agencies. So it is encouraging that both the Los Angeles County district attorney and federal authorities in Los Angeles are investigating the goings-on in Compton, South Gate and other cities.

Constant scrutiny by the district attorney -- or the FBI when federal money is involved -- does not make life any easier for those honest and public-spirited citizens who work in city government because they genuinely want to improve their communities. But the political contagion that seems to have infected some Los Angeles County cities is too serious to leave untreated.

None of these small cities is rich. Their taxpayers are largely working-class people. These hard-working folks have been ripped off by local politicians who have only been pretending to act in the community's interest. If it helps assure that Compton and cities like it have open and honest government, no amount of vigilance -- by law enforcement, by the news media and most especially by the voters -- is too much.

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