Updated at 3:55 p.m. at the end of the story with concerns about Brown Act violations.
Council members Ali Saleh, Nestor E. Valencia, Violeta Alvarez, Danny Harber and Ana Maria Quintana were joined by hundreds of residents on Thursday, April 7, all ready to usher the city into a new era of transparency.
It remains to be seen which two members will fill the vacancies left by previous mayor Oscar Hernandez and vice mayor Teresa Jacobo, who were recalled in a March special election.
Following comments from the public, the council will vote for the mayor. Then, the newly elected mayor will lead the council in a vote for vice mayor. The meeting will conclude with comments from the new officials.
Cristina Garcia, spokesperson for BASTA (Bell Association to Stop the Abuse), said she is hopeful about this group of new council members.
"There hasn't been a fair election in two decades, and right now we have five people who were selected by the people. I think everyone is really excited," she said.
BASTA, a nonpartisan group born in July out of Bell's corruption scandal, rallies citizens to lobby, solicit help from state representatives and attend meetings.
Garcia said, "Democracy only works if we're there with the council members to keep them accountable."
The City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Bell Community Center.
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In response to community concerns about whether the meeting violates the California poen government law known as the Brown Act, James M. Casso, who provides legal counsel for the city, assured the council that no laws are being broken in convening Monday night's special meeting.
The complete text of the letter, as shared in an email from Councilman Nestor Valencia:
Evidently, there have been questions raised by members of the community whether tonight's Special Council meeting is compliant with the Brown Act, Government Code Section 54950, et seq. Please be assured that tonight's meeting, as noticed and called, meets the requirements of the Brown Act.
Under the Brown Act, Government Code Section 54956, provides, in pertinent part, that a "special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer [i.e, the Mayor] of the [Council] of [a City], or by a majority of the members of the [City Council]."
For Bell, the Council has not yet selected a "presiding officer," i.e., the Mayor or Vice Mayor (it is expected that will be done this evening), and, as such, a majority of the Council, three members out of the five, were required to sign the Notice and Call for tonight's meeting.
While I certainly understand the confusion among residents, given the fact that each of you agreed (at Thursday's swearing in ceremony) to hold tonight's meeting, under the Brown Act, again, only three are required to sign the Notice and Call for a special meeting. In addition, following Thursday's ceremony, when City Clerk Rebecca Valdez sought the signatures of the councilmembers for the Notice and Call, I understand that Councilmember Valencia had already left the Community Center for the evening, making it impossible to secure the signatures of all five members.
I trust this answers any concerns. If you have any further questions, please call me.