Bell councilman accuses colleagues of 'holding the city hostage'
Bell Councilman Lorenzo Velez -- the only City Council member not facing corruption charges -- urged his colleagues Friday morning to start showing up at meetings so that crucial decisions can be made about the city's financial future.
"The councilmembers are holding the city hostage," Velez said at a press conference Friday morning at Bell City Hall. "We need to address the $3.5-million budget deficit. There are very tough decisions that need to be made."
The council has met only three times in the last five months and on one of those occasions Mayor Oscar Hernandez and Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo walked out after being heckled by the crowd. Both are facing criminal charges and both have called in sick to meetings repeatedly.
Velez said he has tried to speak personally with Jacobo and Hernandez, but they have not returned his calls.
Without a quorum, the city has been forced to cancel meetings and has failed to vote on important budget cuts. Interim City Administrator Pedro Carrillo has said that the council's inability to meet could force him to use his authority to cut expenses to keep the city from insolvency.
The city faces a deficit of $3.5 million to $4.5 million and could be unable to pay its bills as early as May unless significant expenses are cut. Among the options the council is considering is whether to disband the Police Department, which eats up 67% of the general fund.
Hernandez, Jacobo and Councilmember George Mirabal were among the eight current and former Bell officials charged with misappropriating public funds and public corruption. Councilman Luis Artiga was also charged, but he resigned. A recall election will be held in March.
-- Ruben Vives in Bell
Photo credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times