Bell clerk says she signed minutes for meetings she never attended
Bell’s official record-keeper testified Monday that she was sometimes told to sign the minutes for meetings she never attended, had little hands-on experience when she took over as the city clerk and had made mistakes on official paperwork for some government sessions.
Rebecca Valdez is the first witness in a sweeping government corruption case against six former council members accused of paying themselves huge salaries by serving on boards that rarely met, and did little, if any, work when they did.
Her testimony is considered crucial in the case because she was the city official charged with keeping track of when boards and commissions met, and what actions they took during meetings.
Valdez testified that although she was appointed city clerk in 2004, she didn’t officially take on the job for another three years.
The prior city clerk moved out of town, making her ineligible to hold the elected office, but she continued her job duties. Valdez said she maintained her job as an account clerk and was the city clerk in name only.
“I had the title, I did not do any of the city clerk work until some meetings that I attended in the fall of 2006,” she said.
Valdez said she was sometimes instructed to sign documents, including minutes of City Council meetings she never attended.
“You’ll find my signature on some of the documents because it needs to have the city clerk’s signature,” Valdez said. “The way things were run back then, I couldn’t ask any questions. I was told I had to sign.”
Valdez said she began attending City Council meetings in the fall of 2006 and took over the full duties of clerk when the former city clerk actually left the office in 2007.
Questioned by Alex Kessel, former councilman George Mirabal’s attorney, Valdez admitted she had made mistakes in the minutes. An October 2006 meeting, for instance, was marked as starting at 8:03 p.m. and adjourning at 7:50 p.m.
The credibility of the minutes is important because the defendants are accused of being paid for city boards that seldom or sometimes never met. The minutes provide a record of their meetings.
Valdez said that the city attorney at the time, Edward Lee, was present at City Council meetings where salaries for the boards were discussed and never questioned their legality.
In addition to Mirabal, former Councilmembers Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez and Teresa Jacobo are charged with misappropriation of public funds.
Robert Rizzo, the city’s former chief executive, and Angela Spaccia, the onetime assistant city administrator, are also accused of municipal corruption and will stand trial later this year.
-- Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb
Photo: Rebecca Valdez testifies at a 2011 preliminary hearing. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times