Candidates Forum: Meet and Greet in Bell

Seventeen candidates have filed to run in the March 8 Bell election.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    When campaigns include slogans like, "The city cannot get any worse," you know the bar hasn't been set high.

    Who's Who: City Clerk's List of Candidates

    That's the case for the 17 candidates in next month's Bell City Council election.

    Most of the candidates in the March 8 election for five council seats are leaders of last summer's recall drive. They participated in forums this month to discuss the city's woes, of which there are many.

    "The city cannot get any worse than it is," Ali Saleh, a lifelong Bell resident and one of the candidates, said at an earlier forum. 

    The final forum is scheduled for 6 p.m., Thursday at the Bell Community Center. It's not a debate, but more of a meet-and-greet with the candidates. 

    The city became a symbol of municipal corruption after a series of LA Times reports exposed city officials' large salaries. Four of the city's five council members were paying themselves about $100,000 a year for their part-time service to a city where one in six people live in poverty.

    A fifth council member, Lorenzo Velez, did not take a high salary and was not targeted for recall. He is seeking re-election.

    Then there was Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo. He had an annual compensation package of $1.5 million.

    Rizzo, four council members and three other former officials have since been charged with fraud. The council members facing charges include the mayor and vice mayor. All have pleaded not guilty.

    Six council members were ordered Thursday to stand trial after a preliminary hearing at which Velez and other Bell officials testified about their co-workers.

    Many of the council candidates are novices, but as Saleh noted, some very experienced officials put Bell in its current dismal state.

    The interim city manager recently reported the city is as much as $4.5 million in debt and may have to disband its police department or take other drastic action to balance the budget.

    The candidates made few campaign promises at a forum earlier this month, but most said they adamantly oppose disbanding the police department.

    About 200 people attended an early February forum. Seven candidates attended the forum.