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Best known for scandal, Bell now getting A's for transparency

March 14, 2013 |  2:42 pm

 Doug Willmore, the new city manager in Bell, is part of the reform effort in the Los Angeles County city. Credit:  Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Once the poster child for sky-high salaries and hazy bookkeeping, the city of Bell has a new title.

City of transparency.

The Sunshine Review, a nonprofit organization that rates public websites, gave the town an "A-minus" grade for improving its online access to public records, such as the city's charter, audits, vendor contracts and city salaries.

"My colleagues and I were quite proud," said Mayor Ali Saleh, a reform activist in town when the city salaries and budgetary irregularities were exposed by The Times.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

For the small, working-class city, the letter grade marks a major turnaround.

The nonprofit gave the city “D” ratings in past surveys and audits -- both from the state and Bell’s own internal effort -- showing there were virtually no checks and balances in place at City Hall.

The A-minus grade comes as six former Bell council members are awaiting a verdict in a corruption trial. Each is accused of drawing salaries as high as $100,000 for serving on boards and committees that rarely met and did little work.

The city former chief executive, Robert Rizzo, is accused –- among other things -– of covering up the size of his salaries, which was approaching $800,000 a year when he was fired in 2010.

In March 2011, the town's residents elected five new leaders, whom immediately sought to reform the municipal government and steer the city toward transparency.

About time, the new five-member council hired Vision Internet, a Los Angeles-based website design firm, which created the town's new website.

The online portal to city records uses Google translator to translate documents into 64 languages, a key element considering that nearly 90% of the town's residents speak a language other than English. The website also streams council meetings.

"We recognize that while building transparency within City Hall functions is key reform, reflecting this commitment online through a new City of Bell website is equally important in our effort to build a truly open government."

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--Ruben Vives

Twitter.com/latvives

Photo: Doug Willmore, the new city manager in Bell, is part of the reform effort in the Los Angeles County city. Credit:  Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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