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Montebello councilwoman says City Hall is trying to silence her

October 11, 2011 |  5:20 pm

Montebello Councilwoman Christina Cortez, a critic of the city’s past financial dealings, said she welcomed audit.

Dismayed by one council member's repeated whistle-blowing about the embattled city, Montebello City Council members on Wednesday are slated to discuss a host of rules on how council members communicate and use city letterhead.

The move comes after some city officials expressed outrage that Councilwoman Christina Cortez has used city letterhead to ask the L.A. County district attorney and the state controller to investigate the city.

One new rule would call for council members to provide for the printed agenda “a brief general description” of what they plan to discuss during their public comments, “expressed in complete sentences.” The council is also slated to discuss rules on “who serves as spokesperson for the city” as well as the city’s policy on the use of city letterhead, which currently calls for managers to review such correspondence.

Some open-government advocates expressed alarm at some of the rules, saying they appear to be an attempt to prevent elected officials from speaking out about problems in the city.

Bob Stern, the head of the Center for Governmental Studies, said it was “really troubling” that council members provide a preview of what they plan to say during a public meeting.

Cortez, who has been decrying alleged corruption since she came to office in a recall election in February 2010, said she thought it was all intended to “silence me.”

“I have the right to say what I think. That’s why we are elected,” she said.

The tussle over who can speak for the city comes as Montebello, a town of about 65,000 in eastern Los Angeles County, has been mired in crisis for months. The city is seeking an outside loan to avoid temporarily running out of cash later this year.

The FBI is investigating misused housing money. And state Controller John Chiang released an audit last month that found that officials had misused more than $31 million, including instances in which officials used funds meant to improve blighted neighborhoods on fancy dinners in Las Vegas and other “frivolous” items.

Councilman Bill Molinari, who has frequently wrangled with Cortez, said the controller never would have come into the city in the first place if Cortez had not inapprpriately written letters on city stationery that contained “totally false accusations.”

(A spokesman for the controller said the audit was launched because of concerns that the financial reports were false.)

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--Jessica Garrison and Abby Sewell

Photo: Christina Cortez. Credit: Anne Cusack/L.A. Times

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