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State officials expected to wage legal fight for control over Bell

October 14, 2010 |  9:19 am

The California attorney general's office announced that it will proceed with court action against the city of Bell after talks broke down over installing an outside monitor to oversee the scandal-ridden city.

The decision sets the stage for a legal fight over control of an independent city -- one that is without clear precedent in the state. Courts have placed school districts into receivership, but experts said they cannot remember a California city having an overseer imposed upon it.

Bell, however, may be a unique case: Four of its five City Council members face criminal charges as do several of the city's former top administrators.

State officials had been negotiating the issue of oversight for several weeks with the city's current interim manager and attorney, who were brought in after the city's previous top officials resigned this summer.

But talks with the city broke down when it became clear "we couldn't come to an agreement that we felt guaranteed accountability and transparency," Chief Deputy Atty. Gen. Jim Humes said in a statement.

State officials said that at a minimum, they plan to ask a court to appoint a special monitor with complete access to city records who would provide independent oversight over city affairs. But Jim Finefrock, a spokesman for the attorney general, said officials also might ask a judge to place the city into receivership, in which a court-appointed official could have the power to veto council decisions or set policy independently of elected officials.

"Our main goal has been to ensure accountability and transparency in city management until new elections can be held and to do so without imposing high costs," Humes said. "Because the city is unwilling or unable to agree to a resolution that would achieve our goals, we plan to go to court."

Read the full story here.

-- Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives