Bell trial: Hours after verdicts, tensions flare at City Hall
For most Bell citizens, it should have been a night to celebrate.
There was even cake — chocolate — with the word “GUILTY” written in pink frosting.
“This is probably one of the most successful days we’ve had in terms of getting back to the justice this community deserves,” said Bell City Atty. David Aleshire at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.
In one day, a jury had announced convictions for five of six former Bell council members on trial for corruption, and an appeals court allowed a case to proceed that might allow the city to recoup some of the bloated salaries it paid its officials.
But just hours later, the public’s jubilation was riven by infighting that forced an early adjournment before any council business was addressed.
Tensions during the public comment period, some say over the results of a recent election, boiled over in shouting matches.
“We all fought this together, before this unfortunate division came in our city,” said Ismael Morales. “Even though we have a new council, we still have a lot to fix,” he added, saying that taxes in the city were still too high.
But moments later, Morales and the council members engaged in a testy exchange.
At one point during the argument, Mayor Ali Saleh stormed out of the meeting. “With the cameras on, we show a classless city,” muttered one audience member after he left, a row of TV cameras swooshing to capture his exit. Someone shouted about another recall.
Others pleaded with fellow residents to help the city move on. “It’s time to grow up,” said Alfred Areyan, a longtime resident. “It’s time to get our community on the right track.”
The meeting was adjourned after Police Chief Anthony Miranda said he could not control the rowdy crowd. “We are moving backward,” he pleaded with the crowd, amid still more yelling, evocative of the contentious meetings after Bell’s high salaries were first discovered. “This is 2013 and it feels like 2010."
“It just basically shows that we’re a divided city,” said Councilman Danny Harber, who was unseated in the recent election and was celebrating his last meeting. “It doesn’t bode well for the city.”
— Christine Mai-Duc in Bell