Chapman University Hosts Conference on City of Bell Scandal

The city that became famous for the largest local government corruption scandal in California is under scrutiny again — this time, in search of ways to prevent history from repeating itself.

The city of Bell will be the subject of a free, day-long conference Thursday at Chapman University, where academics, lawyers, media, law enforcement and elected officials will dissect the 2010 scandal and its impacts on local government as a whole.

The working class city of 35,000 people was put on the map in 2010 after an investigation by Los Angeles Times reporter Jeff Gottlieb, one of Thursday’s panelists, reported on the grossly high salaries of several top city officials.

Former City Manager Robert Rizzo was being paid a total of 1.5 million dollars in wages and benefits; assistant city manager Angela Spaccia and police chief Randy Adams were making half a million dollars in salaries and benefits; and city council members received more than $100,000 annual salaries — all far above what counterparts in neighboring cities would make.

Read all of the Times’ reporting on the scandal here.

The conference, which begins at 9:15 am, includes four panels and many of the key people who were integral to the scandal’s unfolding, including Gottlieb, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley; Bell City Manager Doug Wilmore and the attorneys who defended the city and individuals under criminal prosecution.

Chapman Associate Professor of Political Science Fred Smoller, who organized the event, hopes the conference will provide valuable insight into what went wrong in Bell, the challenges facing local governments across California, and what citizens and media can do about it.

“Some people don’t think that politics is the space to have an informed and civil conversation, but I’d like to do that here,” said Smoller. “I told the lawyers, ‘I’m not trying to retry the trial – I don’t want screaming matches.’ We’re just trying to get the real people involved to give their experiences.”

For more details about the event and to reserve a spot, visit the conference webpage.

  • Mike Tardif

    Will Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido head up one of the panels?

    • Robert Darley

      He should Mike!
      He is overseeing a council of un/underemployed members. How is it three of the councilmembers don’t have real jobs.
      P. David Benavides sold three houses for a total of $1.3 m in 18 months. by the most generous estimation he earned $30,000. Where/how does he earn his living. That would be interesting to know.

  • Debby Bodkin

    Public corruption is not a new crime and the City of Bell scandal is just one example of abuses of power via the taxpayers. Hopefully, the day’s event will be a learning experience for all attending. Let’s not forget that it took courage for Los Angeles District Attorney Cooley and his legal team to complete the investigation and prosecutions. Tragically, Orange County’s government and law enforcement leaders are years behind Los Angeles as it relates to holding public officials and officers of the court (licensed attorneys) accountable for abuses of power.

    District Attorney Rackauckas has refused to investigate and/or prosecute the officials and attorneys who financially gained and continue to profit by orchestrating thousands of money/enforcement judgments on behalf of the Foothill Eastern and San Joaquin Hills Transportation agencies during the past 10 plus years — judgments for unconstitutional toll road fees and penalties that were publicly admitted by TCA employees and so-called class action attorneys.

    In my opinion, the TCA’s mismanagement and alleged fraud crimes committed in Orange County courts of law are scandals that would far surpass anything that occurred in the City of Bell. However, it takes a prosecutor and legal team that will consistently act on behalf of the taxpayers, free of any and all legal, religious, financial, personal and/or government conflicts of interest. IMO, Orange County’s elected officials lack the courage and tenacity to clean up any type of corruption crimes in the well-educated and affluent Orange County, California.

  • David Zenger

    Too bad Chapman isn’t looking at misfeasance and misgovernance here in OC. Maybe it’s a little too close to home for some of its alums and also a little sensitive given its hosting of the County’s comical “Leadership Academy.”