Bell election: Newly elected pledge to sweep out City Hall; interim administrator likely to be fired [Updated]
Incoming City Council members in Bell pledged to renew efforts to sweep out City Hall and said it is likely they will fire the interim city administrator and city attorney.
"I want to remove whoever is at City Hall who's not working for us. I want to know who put them behind those desks. I want to know what qualifications they have," said Violeta Alvarez, one of the winners in Tuesday's council elections.
Alvarez said it is vital to remove leaders who have a link to Robert Rizzo, the former chief administrator who now faces charges of looting the small city southeast of Los Angeles.
Ali Saleh, a businessman who also was elected, said it would be a priority to get rid of interim City Administrator Pedro Carrillo and interim City Attorney Jamie Casso.
Carrillo and Casso have walked a tightrope since the salary scandal enveloped the city last summer, at times criticized for being part of the "Rizzo regime," and at other times praised for cutting the city's payroll.
Carrillo said he has been in touch with new council members and is preparing staff reports on possible cuts to keep the city solvent. The interim government is in a good position to get the city back on its feet, he argued.
"The interim government has basically taken some very calculated decisions in the best interest of the city of Bell," Carrillo said Wednesday. "We haven't shut our doors. We're still in a position where we can balance the budget. We all have to come together now with the new council."
"It's been a herculean task to be able to get through all of that ... but at the end of the day, the city is much more transparent and much more readily available to the residents," Casso said.
A majority of new council members said they hope to save the city's beleaguered Police Department, which is being investigated for possible civil rights violations and predatory law enforcement.
Carrillo, in a previous staff report, said the city will have a deep deficit by the end of the current fiscal year if it doesn't take drastic steps, possibly including disbanding the Police Department.
Danny Harber, another winner in the city elections, said he would like to renegotiate the police contract and bargain for pay cuts in an effort to save the department.
"They say they're willing to sit down and take a pay cut, as well as restructure the department," Harber said. "But just because they supported the slate doesn't mean they get whatever they want."
He added, "I'll do everything I can to keep the Police department, but only if it is viable."
Alvarez and Saleh said they would like to return $22 million in bond money the city borrowed to build a sports complex. The sports complex never materialized.
[Updated at 2:11 p.m.: Winning council candidate Nestor Valencia, a healthcare management consultant, was more measured in his response concerning Casso and Carrillo.
"I know the knee-jerk reaction is to throw these people out," he said. "We're professionals now. We can't go in there blazing guns."
He said he would like to see the city clerk's job become an elected, rather than an appointed, position.
Though he ran on the Justice 4 Bell slate, which was associated with a call to dismantle the Police department, Valencia said he hasn't made up his mind on the issue.
"Everything's on the table, including a metro police, including asking them to lower their salaries and adjusting their pensions," he said.
As for the $22 million in bond money, Valencia said he favors putting the money in an interest-bearing account -– rather than in the non-interest-bearing account in which it now sits -– while the council figures out what to do with it.
"The city is confronting tough choices in fixing its budget," he said. "The larger point is, we have to look at the culture of living within our means, driving a Camry, not a Lexus."]
-- Paloma Esquivel, Christopher Goffard and Ruben Vives