Bell police angry at a possible elimination of department; residents say proposal is premature
Members of Bell's police union said the proposal to disband the police force to help stave off bankruptcy is "a slap in the face" to officers.
That proposal is one of a number of options on the table tonight as the City Council considers drastic ways to help close a nearly $5 million shortfall that threatens to push the city into insolvency.
Kurt Owens, vice president of the Bell Police Officers Assn., said officers are angry and dismayed and that disbanding the police force and contracting with the Sheriff's Department is "against everything" that Pedro Carrillo, the city's interim chief administrative officer, told police officers in informal discussions.
"We're just flabbergasted and surprised," he said.
City Council candidate Nestor Valencia, founder of the Bell Resident Club, said these major decisions should be made after the March election and recall, when a new council is seated.
Carrillo did not immediately return a phone call Thursday.
Cristina Garcia, a leader of the activist group BASTA, agreed with Valencia that the decision whether to disband the Police Department should be made by the new council.
Although Garcia agreed that action to balance the budget must take place soon, she suggested creating a commission to study the issue so the new council can move forward quickly.
Several people also alleged that the city had violated the state's open meeting law by not posting the agenda in a public place the required 72 hours before the council meeting begins. The Brown Act requires that a hard copy of the agenda be available. The city is not required to post it on its website, said Terry Francke, general counsel of the nonprofit Californians Aware and an open-government advocate
The agenda was posted outside City Hall at about 3 p.m. Wednesday when a Times reporter stopped by, but Owens said officers did not see it when they checked as late as 9:30 p.m.
On Wednesday afternoon, Carrillo said the city "had a glitch" and that the hard copy was available and the city was working on getting it online. The agenda and about 300 pages of supporting documents were e-mailed to The Times at 5:25 p.m.
Garcia said the agenda and supporting documents were posted on the city's website about 10 p.m.
Many residents have also been highly critical of Carrillo because he worked for the city under former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo, who has been charged with corruption along with seven other current and former city officials.
The tardiness in posting the agenda has led them to compare him to Rizzo, who was less-than-forthcoming about his salary, city finances and other issues in Bell.
"For too long Rizzo and his people did what they wanted with no warning or community input," Garcia said. "How is this decision the council might take today any different? We are just now finding out about this item on the agenda. Bell residents when informed can make decisions for themselves. But the current administration has done nothing to discuss with the community what these options mean."
-- Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives
Photo: Pedro Carrillo in October 2010. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times