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On the Media: How many more Bells are out there?

A shrunken Los Angeles Times still had the resources to unearth outsized official salaries in the small, working-class city, but more persistent journalistic voices closer to home are needed all over L.A. County.

July 21, 2010|James Rainey

"There is something wrong in this city," said Leo Bueno, a hospital maintenance man who joined the rally outside City Hall. "But nobody can find out anything about what is going on. There is nowhere to go."

Back in the days of more robust staffing at local newspapers, Bell officials might have gotten away with a few years of unchecked pay raises. But I'm guessing The Times or a smaller competitor would have sniffed out Rizzo's ill-gotten gains years ago, perhaps when his salary was a mere $400,000.

Several of the residents pleaded for The Times to stay on the story. But a big downtown paper spread over hundreds of Southern California communities can only dip in occasionally on any single small-town government.

It will take a more persistent journalistic voice, closer to home, to keep municipal malefactors on the run. Bell reformers have recently created a Facebook page. They have a new political organization. But it's unclear whether they can find and support a new journalistic voice to patrol their city's cozy corridors of power.

The Times reporters had been probing finances in Bell and neighboring Maywood when they discovered the district attorney's office had launched an investigation into excessive pay. That led to public records requests, which smoked out the whopping salaries.

A few Bellians told Gottlieb they had demanded public records before. But they said city officials put them off.

A big newspaper like The Times can't be so easily dissuaded. As they waited for the records, the reporters frequently reminded city officials they didn't want to have to take them to court.

If they're lucky, that's the only kind of judicial action Bell's bosses will be facing.

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