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All-new Bell City Council is sworn in

The five new Bell City Council members, elected in the wake of the compensation scandal, must deal with the fiscal mess they inherited from former officials.

April 08, 2011|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times
  • Newly sworn-in Bell City Council members are, from left, Ali Saleh, Nestor Valencia, Violeta Alvarez, Danny Harber and Ana Maria Quintana.
Newly sworn-in Bell City Council members are, from left, Ali Saleh, Nestor… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

A new political era in scandal-plagued Bell was ushered in Thursday evening when five City Council members were sworn in during a packed and jubilant ceremony at City Hall.

"We are coming in with a clean slate," Councilman Ali Saleh told the overflowing crowd of several hundred people whose applause resounded through a small community center. "We are inheriting a lot of wrongs that need to be righted."

The new council, scheduled to meet for the first time Monday, will have to quickly grapple with tough budget-cutting decisions. The city is facing a projected deficit of $3.5 million to $4.5 million by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Councilman Nestor Valencia asked for community involvement and support to help tackle the problems.

"We'll be listening to you to set our priorities," he said, "and move forward with transparency and good government."

The other new council members are Violeta Alvarez, Danny Harber and Ana Maria Quintana.

The night had a hopeful, upbeat air. Cheerful guitar music played in the background as people snacked on pan dulce and coffee.

Assemblyman Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) administered the oath of office as the new council members stood one by one at a lectern and pledged to help the tiny working-class city rebound from a sweeping corruption scandal.

The ceremony came two days after the election results were certified by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Normally, the sitting City Council would have the authority to accept the March 8 election results, but four of the five council members had been arrested on corruption charges in September and ordered by a judge to stay away from City Hall.

All four — along with the city's former top two administrators and two former council members — have been ordered to stand trial for allegedly looting the city's treasury by drawing extraordinary salaries.

The city's former administrator, Robert Rizzo, and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, are also accused of conspiring to hide their salaries and of approving high-dollar contracts for themselves without council approval.

The council has been unable to meet for months, and the city's interim administrator, Pedro Carrillo, said Bell faces a mounting financial crisis. Deep cuts are unavoidable, he said.

Bell, one of Los Angeles County's poorest cities, has been roiled by scandal since The Times revealed that part-time council members were earning nearly $100,000 a year. Rizzo's total annual compensation was nearly $1.5 million, making him one of the highest-paid municipal employees in the nation.

Rizzo, Spaccia and the city's police chief, Randy Adams, were forced out shortly after the salaries were revealed. Adams has not been charged.

tony.barboza@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.

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