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L.A. judge rejects putting court-appointed monitor in charge of Bell

December 7, 2010 |  2:09 pm

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has rejected a request by the state attorney general’s office to put a monitor in charge of Bell’s finances and to help run the day-to-day operation of the embattled city.

The decision leaves the city in a holding pattern, with an interim administrator and a City Council that has had difficulty holding a meeting since most of its members were arrested in connection with a widespread public corruption investigation.

It is likely that Bell will be left to limp along until the March city elections, when all but one council member face recall.

DOCUMENTS: Read the "First 100 Days" report from the interim city manager

County auditors, meanwhile, are investigating the city’s finances to determine if Bell is even solvent. The city has been forced to roll back and refund taxes after a series of critical reports from the state controller’s office cited numerous problems in the way the city collected and spent city money.

The controller's office is one of seven local, state and federal agencies investigating the city.

Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown asked for the court-appointed monitor, arguing that the city needed immediate intervention and that the monitor should be permitted to investigate the city’s financial dealings for possible wrongdoing.

Brown’s office also filed suit against the city and eight current or former civic leaders, alleging that they had conspired to misappropriate public funds.

Defense attorney for former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and others argued that Brown’s suit was a transparent political stunt while he was running for governor. Brown will take office next month.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert H. O'Brien’s ruling was not entirely unexpected. In previous court hearings he had shown a reluctance to move forward quickly in appointing someone to take over a city that has operated on its own since 1927.

"I don't want to lead anyone to believe we will appoint a monitor,” he said at one recent hearing when he asked both the city and state to give him three names of possible monitors. "But I want to be prepared if we're going to do it."

If the judge had appointed a monitor, it would have been an unprecedented move, said Dave Mora, West Coast regional director of the International City/County Management Assn.

Mora said that in 2008 the city of Vallejo sought bankruptcy protection and a judge was brought in to handle its finances. In that instance, however, the council, and not an outside party, continued to make day-to-day decisions.

"You would hope no jurisdiction gets to that point," Mora said.

Some citizens of Bell, driven to activism after The Times revealed the high salaries paid to administrator and part-time council members, said they had become so distrustful of the city that they would welcome a monitor.

"They have been so awful to us we can't trust them anymore," Carmen Bella, 76, said.

O'Brien’s ruling was first reported by City News Service.


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-- Ruben Vives