If you have any doubts as to why we all have to keep up the fight against our respective city halls, please read Hector Becerra's thoughtful piece in today's Los Angeles Times on the aftermath of revelations last week of the astronomical salaries paid to high-ranking employees in the city of Bell.
In case you missed it, the Times published a story last Thursday about the nearly $800,000 salary of Robert Rizzo, the chief administrative officer in the city of 37,000 people in southeast Los Angeles County. The story also revealed that Bell pays its police chief $457,000 -- about 50 percent more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
Putting it plainly, Bell's residents are pissed off. From Becerra's story:
They flooded Bell City Hall with requests for public records and packed a council meeting with an overflow crowd.
They collected signatures demanding an audit of city officials' salaries and vowed to boot their handsomely paid politicians out of office. They even created a website and posted documents that the city refused to put on its official site.
In the week since residents in this working-class suburb discovered that their city manager makes nearly $800,000 a year, Bell has experienced a sudden jolt of civic engagement. It's an anger-fueled form of participatory democracy that's relatively new for an immigrant-heavy town of about 40,000 not known for high voter turnout.
This is music to our ears at Voice of OC and should be to anyone who values democracy. But as the story goes on to point out, Bell's residents better stay pissed off, and stay focused, if they want any lasting change.
And staying focused on civic issues is tough, especially if you are a poor, immigrant community where long hours and lots of fortitude are required to just make it through each day. But they have to find a way.
Again, from Becerra's story:
Although prosecutors have brought charges against dozens of southeast L.A. County officials over the last two decades, they say it's public participation that is the key to fixing many of these governments.
"We deal with the crime. What people consider corruption may not be a crime," said David Demerjian, head of the district attorney's Public Integrity Division. "I tell them, 'Any dysfunction within the government has to be handled by you.' The residents have a lot of power."
Yes you do, people of Bell. You keep up your fight, and we promise to keep up ours.