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Bell's mayor says death threats have forced him to skip council meetings

February 11, 2011 |  1:58 pm

Oscarhernandez Bell's embattled mayor said he's been forced to withdraw from his civic duties and skip City Council meetings because of death threats that have left him fearing for his life.

Oscar Hernandez's absences have left the council shorthanded and unable to make budget cuts that Bell's interim city administrator has said are necessary to keep the city from sliding into insolvency.

"I explain to police, and they don't want to give me protection," Hernandez said Thursday during a break in an ongoing preliminary hearing that will determine whether Hernandez and five other current or former council members will stand trial for allegedly misappropriating money from the city treasury.

Hernandez said that he doesn't trust his city's police officers because he supports replacing the department with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, a move that would reportedly save the financially desperate city about $3.5 million a year. Interim City Administrator Pedro Carrillo has estimated the city could be facing a deficit of $3.5 million to $4.5 million by the end of the fiscal year.

"I don't know whether to be afraid of someone with a gun or someone with a gun and a uniform," said the mayor’s daughter, Lena Hernandez, 34.

Bell Police Capt. Steve Finklestein defended his officers.

"My cops are professionals, and as a professional police officer, no matter what your opinions and reservations, those are put those aside and you do your job," he said.

The council has been unable to muster a quorum three times in the last five months, mainly because Hernandez and Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo have failed to show up. Both had doctors notes to excuse them from last month's meeting, which was ultimately canceled.

It's unclear whether the council will be able to meet before next month's city elections, which likely will give the council a makeover.

-- Jeff Gottlieb

Oscar Hernandez//Times photo by Don Bartletti

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