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Archived: EDITORIAL: Bell Should Be a Civics Lesson to Us All

It is disheartening to hear that the residents of the City of Bell had no idea that some members of their part-time city council were earning $100,000 per year.

In addition to the council’s salaries the city administrator was earning $787,637 per year, the police chief $457,000 per year and the assistant city manager $376,288—heaven only knows what their pensions are.

On the heels of this news we learn that the City of Montebello is now without a city administrator, police chief and still without a finance director. Given the reports coming out of Bell, maybe residents there should consider themselves lucky.

While we say we are disheartened by the constant revelations of impropriety, whether it be in pay or actions by elected officials or public sector employees, we should add that our disappointment is not just about the lack of transparency in government, but also the lack of interest of residents in what goes on in their city.

By attending council meetings and demanding information on budgets or the salaries they pay their employees, residents can start to hold the people whose salaries they pay accountable.

Bell residents will tell you that they tried repeatedly to get city officials to come clean and get some media outlet to investigate their accusations, to no avail, until now.

In city after city, whether large or small, residents routinely feel their views don’t matter and they have no say in how things run. Requests for documents required by law to be made available to the public are routinely denied, ignored, or stalled.

Council members and other elected officials seem to have little civic education or training, or an understanding of their fiduciary responsibilities.

The public often has even less knowledge, and that is a growing problem across this country where civics educations has for the most part been abandoned.

We have come to the conclusion that what’s needed are regulations mandating that city council member be educated to their fiduciary responsibilities, and held accountable to the people who elect them.

Perhaps it is time to require that the salaries of public employees be posted yearly in a place that is easily accessible to residents.