On politics in the Golden State

Category: Bell

State Senate approves more power for auditor in light of Bell scandal

California lawmakers moved Wednesday to give the state auditor greater powers to investigate allegations of waste and fraud in cities, counties and special districts -- advancing legislation in reaction to the financial scandal in the city of Bell.

The state Senate approved AB 187, which was introduced by Assemblyman Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) after eight former Bell officials were indicted on criminal charges of misusing city funds.

The measure allows the state auditor's office to launch investigations of local government agencies that it deems are at "high risk of waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement."

The state auditor’s current "high risk" audit program only applies to state government agencies. 

"It allows our auditor to go into areas of our government that may be at risk of  turning into another city of Bell,"  Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) told her colleagues.

The vote was 27-8. Some opponents argued the measure is an overreaction to scandals involving local cities and that the legislation duplicates powers provided to local grand juries.

The bill was previously approved by the state Assembly, but now goes back to the lower house for approval of minor amendments before it is sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.

-- Patrick McGreevy

New effort begun to strip pensions from corrupt public officials

In response to scandals in Southern California cities including Bell, a second attempt was launched Friday to pass state legislation that would strip public officials of their pensions if they are convicted of a felony. 

Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) is introducing a bill, two months after a similar measure by state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) stalled in committee. 

Current law strips pensions from officials elected on or after Jan. 1, 2006, if they are convicted of a felony, Fuentes said, adding that he wants to extend the sanction to those who took office before that date. 

"I believe that an elected official who is convicted of a felony -- particularly one that involves their official duties -– has abdicated their responsibility to the people they serve and should lose their right to a publicly funded pension," Fuentes said in a statement.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento


State Senate backs more powers for controller to ferret out Bell-style excesses

The state controller would be given more power to delve into the financial records of cities under legislation approved Wednesday by the state Senate in response to the fiscal scandal in the city of Bell.

Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) introduced the measure at the request of Controller John Chiang, who complained after the Bell financial scandal that he is severely hampered in his ability to examine the fiscal conditions of cities and special districts.

Chiang is limited to sending auditors into local agencies when the annual financial reports they are required to file with his office show evidence that state or federal money has been misspent.

The legislation by Pavley would give the controller broad power to examine the financial records of cities, counties, special districts and redevelopment agencies, even if their annual reports are clean.

The new powers would help the state better identify problems such as those in Bell, where eight current and former city officials have been charged with misusing public funds, supporters of the bill said.

"Most of these cities are floundering, and some thoughtful fiscal oversight could be in everyone's best interest," Pavley said before the Senate passed SB 449 and sent it to the Assembly for consideration.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Senate panel kills pension sanctions for those who misuse taxpayer dollars

A proposal to strip public pensions from city and state officials convicted of misusing taxpayer money died in a state Senate committee on Monday after some lawmakers and employee groups said it is too severe.

  The measure by Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) was introduced in response to criminal corruption charges filed against city managers and council members in the city of Bell, including former City Administrator Robert Rizzo.

        Strickland’s proposal would have extended the same pension sanctions to city and state managers that already apply to elected officials and judges.

        “The incidents in the city of Bell highlight the need for this bill,’’ Strickland testified before the Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee. “Even if Robert Rizzo is convicted of theft of public money and falsifying documents, he will still receive his pension.’’

        The two Republican members of the committee voted for the bill, but it did not receive any of the votes of the Democrats, including Chairwoman Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino).

        Negrete McLeod agreed with the concerns of associations representing firefighters, school employees and state supervisors that the measure singles out public employees and could harm innocent family members.

        The senator noted her own husband, who is a retired LAPD officer, is eligible for a pension.

        “If you took it away from him, you take it away from me. I haven’t done anything wrong,’’ she said, speaking of a hypothetical situation.

        She was joined by Sens. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) and Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) in withholding votes needed to pass the bill out of committee. Strickland had proposed that public officials convicted of certain felonies involving their public jobs starting next year would forfeit their pensions. The convicted officials would have had their own contributions to their pension funds returned to them under SB 115.

--Patrick McGreevy

John Chiang reelected California controller

Democrat John Chiang was reelected to a second term as state controller, once again besting Republican Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark). Chiang, who once worked as an attorney in the controller's office, returns to the job for another four-year term, according to early vote tallies. 

The controller is the state's fiscal steward, monitoring cash flow and writing all of the state's checks. The controller also sits on the Franchise Tax Board, the Board of Equalization and the State Lands Commission.

Chiang received strong backing from organized labor during his campaign, while Strickland received the backing of Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman and business groups. Chiang made headlines earlier this year when his office investigated the finances of the city of Bell at the request of Bell's interim city manager.

Chiang's office later posted a list of salaries and pension benefits for local government officials across the state. Strickland criticized Chiang's office for reacting slowly to the Bell scandal and said his office demonstrated a lack of leadership in its handling of the situation.

-- Anthony York

Photo credit: Armando Arorizo /Bloomberg


Bill Lockyer reelected California treasurer

Prop. 19 headed for defeat

Prop. 19 had youth and Bay area support

First Take: Candidates make final push. Decoding the ballot propositions.

It was a busy weekend on the California campaign trail, with candidates barnstorming the state in the final days before the elections.

Pension reform was among the hot topics in this year's governor's race, but fixing California's pension system won't be easy.

George Skelton offers his own guide to the nine measures on Tuesday's ballot.

In case you missed it over the weekend, Evan Halper looked back at Jerry Brown's years as governor. And PolitiCal spent the weekend on the campaign trail with the candidates for Senate and governor.

Check in throughout the day for all your last-minute election news. And stay tuned to political on election night for the latest results, news and analysis from around the state.

-- Anthony York in Sacramento


State lawmakers seek more ways to avert another Bell scandal

The Bell salary scandal continues to spur proposals to shed more light on government compensation.

The state’s ethics watchdog agency on Thursday proposed that government officials be given the option of disclosing how much they are paid by the taxpayers in annual reports on their economic interests. The California Fair Political Practices Commission will hold a hearing on the proposal next month before deciding in December whether to adopt the plan.

The announcement comes just days after the state controller launched a website that lists the salaries, pension and health benefits paid to city and county workers in California. The proposed FPPC form would also include state officials and would provide more details, additionally providing disclosure of how much the reporting official received in stipends, bonuses, car allowances, loans for mortgages and cashed-out sick leave.

”What we’ve learned through coverage of the Bell scandal is there are many other ways for officials, whether elected or appointed, to unduly benefit at the taxpayers’ expense,’’ said Dan Schnur, the commission’s chairman.

State law requires elected officials and government managers to annually disclose their economic interests, including investments and real estate holdings, but it exempts government compensation from the reporting. As a result, the new disclosure form can only be provided by the FPPC as an optional document to be filled out by government officials, but Schnur said he will work with the Legislature next year to make the disclosure a requirement.

A bill to change the law and require the annual disclosure of government compensation died in the recent legislative session. The new form would ask that salary and other compensation be disclosed in broad ranges. For instance the filer would check a box indicating whether the gross salary was $10,001 to $100,000, $101,000 to $200,000, etc. The filer would check boxes for stipends indicating whether they were $0 to $2,000, $2,001 to $5,000, etc.

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

First Take: Candidates woo female voters. New ad targets Barbara Boxer. Local government salaries now online.

Cathleen Decker reports that ideology is more important than gender for female voters in this election.

But national Republicans are targeting female voters in a new anti-Barbara Boxer ad.

Maura Dolan reports Jerry Brown has embraced his father's legacy in his quest for redemption.

The state unveiled a new website that lists compensation and pension benefits for local government employees.

Looking ahead to 2012, Sen. Dianne Feinstein hinted she would run for a fourth full term in the U.S. Senate.

Get the latest from California politics. Follow PolitiCal on Twitter.

-- Anthony York

State releases new local-government salary database

The state launched a website Monday on which Californians can see how much money cities and counties pay their workers, but dozens of municipalities have failed to file the information and could face fines of up to $5,000 unless they comply.

The website was created by State Controller John Chiang in response to the Bell salary scandal. Users can search for the salary, pension benefits and other compensation for more than 594,000 city and county employees throughout California.

“The absence of transparency and accountability invites corruption, self-dealing and the abuse of public funds,” Chiang said. “This website will help taxpayers scrutinize local government compensation and force public officials to account for how they spend public resources.”

Chiang said that next, he is requiring 828 transit, waste disposal, fire and police protection special districts to provide the same information by Dec. 13 and that he will expand the website by June to include payroll data on the other 2,535 independent special districts.

He acknowledged that some local government agencies have been slow to respond. The website lists 66 cities and counties that had not yet met the requirement for submitting payroll information.

As of Monday, filings had not been received by cities including Long Beach, Calabasas, South El Monte and Vernon, Chiang’s office said. The Los Angeles Times has created its own database of city manager compensation, located here.

[updated 6:09 p.m.] Later in the day Monday, Long Beach officials submitted their payroll information to the controller’s office. The city manager’s office said in a statement released after hours: ``Long Beach has historically made salary information available, and is one of the few cities that publish salary details in its annual budget. However, the State Controller asked for data in a different format, which took time to compile for each of the City's 6,000 employees. Additionally, Long Beach is unique in that we are only one of five cities in California with a fiscal year that begins in October, and our finance staff has been required to first and foremost attend to implementing the city's budget.’’


--Patrick McGreevy


State lawmakers set hearing on pay for local officials

State lawmakers will be in Santa Ana on Oct. 20 for a hearing on whether more disclosure should be required of salaries and benefits received by government officials in response to the Bell pay scandal.

The Senate Local Government Committee hearing on "transparency and accountability" will begin at 1 p.m. in the board room at the Rancho Santiago Community College District. Among those invited to testify include representatives of the League of California Cities and the state auditor’s office.

The hearing comes just weeks after the state Legislature failed to act by the end of its session on two pieces of legislation to require public disclosure of compensation received by public officials.

A report by legislative consultants notes that some people want all high-level government salaries put on a state-run database.

"Others worry that the state government’s experience with building online databases suggests that technological approaches result in expensive cost overruns and missed deadlines," the report says. "They suggest following the approach in the Political Reform Act, with public officials filing public documents with their own agencies’ clerks."

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento


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