City of Bell's budget mess is complicated by judge's order barring council members from City Hall
A judge's order that three sitting Bell council members stay away from City Hall while they await trial on corruption charges further paralyzes a city that may be only months away from insolvency.
The judge's order could mean that the Bell City Council cannot meet until a new council is elected in March.
The city faces a potential deficit of $3.5 million to $4.5 million and has defaulted on a $35-million bond.
The scandal-plagued city southeast of downtown Los Angeles has struggled to deal with its financial crisis in part because the council has met only three times in the last five months.
Officials had hoped that the council would approve budget cuts last month, but that meeting was canceled when Mayor Oscar Hernandez and Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo called in sick. The two, as well as Councilman George Mirabal, are charged by prosecutors with corruption.
In holding the three sitting council members and three former council members over for trial on Wednesday, Judge Henry J. Hall said it was imperative to keep the accused council members away from city business. He noted that the council was already "effectively shut down" because Hernandez and Jacobo missed meetings.
The judge said he had considered ordering the city leaders back to jail and suggested prosecutors consider additional charges.
Acting City Administrator Pedro Carrillo has said he was hoping to have the council approve budget cuts to prevent the city from running out of money.
But if the council would not act, Carrillo said he could make cuts on his own that would allow the city to keep going until after the March council election.
-- Jeff Gottlieb and Corina Knoll