The City of Bell is still recovering from the corruption that pushed the small city into national headlines and to the brink of insolvency. A new review of audits from 2010 compares the problems that plagued the City as the scandal broke, and steps taken since then to reform the City’s governance and finances.
State Controller John Chiang released a follow-up review of a series of 2010 audits focused on the City of Bell’s internal controls, management of state and federal funds, its dissolved redevelopment agency and use of gas tax proceeds. Today’s review identified nearly three-dozen material weaknesses in the City’s financial operations, and noted serious concern with the City’s immediate fiscal condition and cash balances.
“The City of Bell has made some progress since it ejected a corrupt city management two years ago,” said Chiang. “But many of the same fiscal management and internal control lapses that allowed Bell to fail its citizens in the past remain unaddressed today. This review does more than point out problems. It serves as a blueprint to preventing the return of unlawful taxation, abusive spending and backroom deal-making. Some problems are urgent, others are structural, but none can be ignored.”
The 2010 audits by the State Controller found widespread problems, including blatant conflicts of interest and self-serving transactions. It also found unlawful property taxes, which were subsequently returned to homeowners. Local authorities have already prosecuted several of the leaders responsible for the City during that time.
The City responded yesterday to the review.
“We appreciate the work and recommendations provided by the State Controller’s Office”, stated Bell City Mayor Violeta Alvarez in response to the review. “The SCO’s work is a snap shot –an important perspective which we will include in our analysis and legislative decisions. These findings, coupled with the numerous audits conducted by other reputable public agencies, as well as the City’s own auditors, have functioned as a blue print – a guide in our journey toward reform. We believe the City of Bell has a pathway out of its current financial condition; it involves continued hard work at all levels of our local government, and a commitment to transparency and good government”.
Within the near three-year span since the first audit was published, the City of Bell has made great strides in its rebuild campaign which has been shaped, in part, by the recommendations of the SCO. During this time, other public agencies have also conducted numerous audits on the City’s condition at a County, State, and Federal level. In its continued pursuit of reform and transparency, the City has also acted on and incorporated many of these recommendations.
The recommendations provided by these trusted and distinct agencies, have helped shape the new City of Bell. Today, the City of Bell administration is under the leadership of a new City Council and new leadership. Its new and permanent city manager and department directors are committed implementing the Council’s legislative reforms and policies.
As outlined in the SCO report, there is still much work to be done in the City of Bell. While the organization survived the Rizzo Scandal of 2010, its impact has left a lasting impression. Similar to a natural disaster, rebuilding is a direct function of the strategic marshalling of resources targeted for its recovery.