There is a reason we’re following this story at PublicCEO.

No, we’re not trying to be local government TMZ or follow in the footsteps of the National Enquirer (both of which have been pointed out).

Rather, this story has “legs” due to the fact that it’s the loudest realization I’ve seen in recent years of citizens waking up. Not just citizens, but the media too. Also, it’s a wake-up call for other local government officials.

This is the news, and the issue continues to grow. The citizens of Bell were first upset because their city’s administrators were making some of the largest salaries in the nation. Now, it’s being shown exactly what the price of those salaries was.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the working-class town is paying the highest property taxes of all but one of Los Angeles County’s 88 cities (the other being the city of Industry with just 21 residential parcels affected).

From the Times:

All county property owners pay 1% general property tax, along with special or direct assessments levied by their municipalities. The countywide average of all tax rates is 1.16, or $11.60 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

Bell’s rate is 1.55% — nearly half again as much as those in such affluent enclaves as Beverly Hills and Palos Verdes Estates and Manhattan Beach, and significantly higher than just about everywhere else in Los Angeles County, according to records provided by the county Auditor-Controller’s Office at The Times request.

That means that the owner of a home in Bell with an assessed value of $400,000 would pay about $6,200 in annual property taxes.The owner of the same home in Malibu, whose rate is 1.10%, would pay just $4,400.

So now taxpayers are finding out that they are being – for lack of a better term – screwed.

It’s amazing how, as a society, we just assume taxes are correct and rarely question the percentages. Personally, I’m just as guilty of the go-with-the-flow attitude. Now, taxpayers are awake. It’s another reminder of how local government officials need to act with the greatest of transparency. Help constituents understand the processes and the costs.

It’s not National Enquirer stuff; it’s not sensationalized. This is the news. This is what the public sees in their local government right now. Officials in local government need to see the big picture. I wrote previously that cities should post salaries online, and now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is saying the same thing. Be open.

Talk to your constituents about this. Not just in a “Don’t worry, we don’t do that here” type of way. But explain to your taxpayers exactly where the money is going and why.

It needs to be addressed.

James Spencer can be reached at