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Judge stops short of appointing monitor to take control of Bell's strained finances

November 17, 2010 | 11:27 am

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge stopped short Wednesday of appointing a special monitor to take financial control of scandal-battered Bell, but did ask the city and state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to each submit the names of three people who could step in and lead the city.

"I don't want to lead anyone to believe we will appoint a monitor," said Judge Robert O'Brien, "but I want to be prepared if we're going to do it."

City officials, who had previous fought the idea of appointing a monitor, said they are now comfortable with the concept but asked that the judge limit the monitor's access. The next hearing is Tuesday.

"If you don't have [conditions] then you're putting the city at risk," said Jamie Casso, the city's interim city attorney. The city also asked that the state pay for the monitor.

The attorney general's office proposed the monitor when it became clear the city’s finances were strained, saying independent oversight would ensure accountability and transparency in the beleaguered city.

City officials initially opposed the proposal, contending that it would dilute or even undermine local control and potentially violate the city's attorney-client rights since the monitor would have unfettered access to city records and finances. The attorney general is suing the city and eight current or former leaders for misappropriation of public funds.

Appointing a monitor to essentially run a city is an extreme step and perhaps unprecedented in California. Courts have placed school districts into receivership, but experts said they don't remember a California city having a monitor imposed upon it.

City operations have been disrupted since September when Los Angeles County prosecutors filed criminal charges against the eight former and current Bell officials -- among them four of the five current City Council members. The criminal probe is among seven local, state and federal investigations into the city’s financial dealings.

The probe, and the jailing of most council members, has had a paralyzing effect on Bell. One council meeting was cancelled when only one panel member showed up, and day-to-day decisions have been delayed.

A court-appointed monitor would have access to all city documents and report back to the attorney general and the district attorney, as well as hold a monthly public forum. The monitor would be in place until a month after the March elections, when voters will be asked whether to recall council members and elect replacements.

RELATED:

Legal fight looms over control of Bell

Bell officials oppose court-ordered monitor

-- Corina Knoll

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