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"The Lessons of Bell".....

* "THE LESSONS OF BELL":  L.A. Times editorial provides interesting food for thought as to some of the factors behind the disproportionate salaries being paid to top officials in Bell, plus observations as to the role of the shifting demographics and changing economies in various Southeast Los Angeles County cities that contributed to what has now seemingly become something of a scandal of major proportions.  And also thoughts as to the lessons to be learned from "ballot measures, drafted for purposes not immediately clear in their wording."  From the LAT:

   The public became aware of the disproportionate salaries earlier this month in reports by Times staff writers Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives. Now Bell residents are angry and want to know why most members of their part-time City Council, which approved the contracts for the three, get an outrageous $100,000 a year when nearby council members get 10% of that, or even less. Prosecutors already are delving into that question, and they will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.

   It would be comforting to be able to conclude that the problems in Bell — or in nearby cities such as Maywood, South Gate, Lynwood, Vernon and Compton, which have all been plagued by exploitation, mismanagement and corruption — originated with a handful of municipal officials who forgot their moral and fiduciary duties to the people they were supposed to serve. Or, perhaps, that the people of those cities brought these problems on themselves by electing such leaders, or by staying away from the polls and allowing themselves to be suckered.

   Although there's certainly some truth to both of those explanations, the full reality is far more complex and troubling. Bell and its neighboring communities were built on factory industries and on waves of immigrants from the American Midwest who built their cities' civic institutions. They stayed, and many of their children stayed, but their grandchildren left when the factories closed. Their places are being taken by new waves of immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who are still in the process of rebuilding community and civic institutions — but without the wealth that industry once pumped into middle-class pockets and city treasuries. Unlike the earlier waves of immigrants, many of the newest generation lack U.S. citizenship and can't vote. Those who came here illegally live and work in fear of the law and tend to keep their heads low rather than fight exploitation at the hands of those who win power.

   But it's not even that simple. In 2005, soon after the governor signed a bill to cap salaries of city council members in general law cities such as Bell, public officials there called a special election to ask voters to make Bell a charter city. Only 336 voters said "yes," but it was enough. Ballot measures, drafted for purposes not immediately clear in their wording, are unfortunately not phenomena limited to small cities. That's a lesson, in this election year, for every California voter .  (LAT)

* AND, ALSO SPEAKING OF BELL, STEVE LOPEZ OFFERS A POSSIBLE SUNDAY MORNING "SURPRISE" TO FOLKS WHO MIGHT THINK THEY HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION TO THE CITY....  The surprise, according to Lopez, is that, inasmuch as Bell is pooled with 140 similar-sized California towns and public entities, residents in those towns and/or folks paying into those public funds may end up having to support the rich pensions of the three Bell public officials whose resignations were requested (demanded?).  And these pensions, as has reported frequently over the past week, will likely run into some very serious $$$.  From Lopez' column today:

   And if the estimates of pension reform advocate Marcia Fritz of Sacramento are accurate, the 55-year-old Rizzo's bloated $787,637 salary could translate into even more than an earlier guess of $600,000 a year.  "I estimate the pension will be $710,000," said Fritz, an accountant. That alone would add up to more than $14 million if Rizzo lives to 75. But Fritz says that on top of his pension and other benefits — are you ready for this, folks? — Rizzo will collect a monthly Social Security check and get cost of living increases in his pension.........

   Fritz, of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, said Bell is pooled with 140 similarly sized California towns and public entities like water and sanitation districts, and together their taxes will be used to support Rizzo in the style to which Bell got him accustomed. Assuming she's right — a spokesperson for the California Public Employees Retirement System said the agency is still trying to unravel the Bell situation and wouldn't be able to confirm Fritz's analysis until Monday — that could spell trouble for a lot of innocent towns.  

   Barstow? Congratulations. If Rizzo wants caviar on his crackers, you'll help pick up the tab. You too, San Gabriel, La Cañada Flintridge, Imperial Beach and El Cerrito. And the same goes for taxpayers in Norco, Yucca Valley, the Goleta Water District and the Big Bear Regional Wastewater Agency.

*And, of course, the same scenario would then likely apply to the assistant city manager (annual salary of $376,288) and the police chief (annual salary of $457,000), who would also fall into the same category as the city manager in terms of payment -- and funding -- of their pensions.  

As to the overall political and socio-economic situation in Bell, Lopez writes: Bell and eight nearby communities, which are roughly 90% Latino, just under half of all adult Latinos can't vote because they are either undocumented or don't have full citizenship.  That may help explain why, as The Times reported Friday, only 336 of Bell's 9,000-plus voters cast ballots in 2005 in favor of a stealth measure, quietly pushed by city officials, that lifted state-imposed salary limits. Lopez is one of several Bell residents who told me she was completely unaware of that special election.  "And I'm an educated woman with a master's in public administration and a bachelor's in urban planning," said Lopez.

   If she and others needed yet another reason to storm the gates, it was provided last week in a bonehead letter to the community by Mayor Oscar Hernandez. In it, he defended those ridiculous paychecks, called Ratso's salary justified, and criticized The Times for reporting the numbers.

   As they're chanting these days in Bell:  Recall, recall, recall …  (LAT)






Saturday afternoon, political notes.....

* PENSION REFORM, JERRY BROWN STAKING OUT TERRITORY IN WHAT IS NORMALLY REPUBLICAN GROUND:   Reactions from political observers on both sides of the aisle to pension reform proposals floated this week by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown.  And, although organized labor may not be particularly pleased with Brown's proposals, perhaps they may nevertheless say this is better than having Meg Whitman as governor.  Excerpt from the Sacramento Bee:

  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, long a supporter of public employee retirement rights, is staking out territory in what is traditionally Republican ground: government pension reform.  On his campaign website and in recent comments to the media, California's attorney general and former governor has advocated rolling back state retirement benefits. Many of his points mirror changes pushed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and tentatively accepted by some unions, but don't cut into pensions as deeply as policies proposed by Brown's Republican opponent, Meg Whitman.

   Whitman, the former eBay CEO, wants to raise the retirement age for most state employees from 55 to 65 and require increased employee contributions. New hires under her plan would receive 401(k)-style plans instead of defined benefit pensions state workers now receive.  Brown's plan would keep defined plans in place, but with lower benefits for new hires, lengthen the retirement age for most state workers to age 60 and increase what workers pay toward their own retirements.


  "I think he's  trying to operate a little bit counter to type by suggesting that he might take on the public employee unions" South said, even though the state's pension costs didn't rise dramatically until after a benefits upgrade in 1999. The problem was made worse by "pension holidays" – years that the state contributed nothing to retirement funds because the pension system's investments soared – followed by the markets' devastating crash in 2008.

  Labor will probably take a long view of Brown's pension plan, said Sacramento-based Republican political strategist Wayne Johnson. While the unions aren't happy with rolling back benefits, they'd rather not hand the hot-button issue to Whitman.

   Scandals at the California Public Employees' Retirement System and stories about abuses such as this week's revelations about the Bell city manager's $800,000 salary only stoke anti-government-worker sentiments that Brown wants to avoid, Johnson said.  "Does Jerry Brown really want to have Bell hung around his neck?" he said. "I don't think so."  (Sac Bee)

* CONTINUING SECURITY AND ESCORT SERVICE FOR FORMER ASSEMBLY SPEAKER KAREN BASS WHO STEPPED DOWN AS SPEAKER IN MARCH...... Sacramento Bee reports that although Bass, who is running to succeed Diane Watson in Congress, has missed most Assembly sessions since she left her leadership position, she is apparently still receiving escort and security service in both Northern and Southern California: 

   Former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass continues to receive state-paid driving and protection services even though she no longer leads the house and has missed most of its sessions since March 1 while running for Congress in Los Angeles.  Two Aseembly sergeants-at-arms – sworn peace officers – are assigned to share duties of escorting Bass in Northern California, and two retired peace officers are paid by the hour to do the same in Southern California, records show.

   Bass' office declined to discuss whether she used the state-paid protection for campaign events leading up to the June 8 Democratic primary in her bid for Congress.  State records show that her two Los Angeles escorts cumulatively billed for 997 hours – at $29 an hour – from March through May – and only 60 hours since June 1.

   Providing protection to California's top elected officials is not new. Peace officers are assigned to everyone from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and constitutional officers from treasurer to controller.  But Bass' protection is different because it applies to a former leader. She stepped down as Assembly chief March 1.  (Sac Bee)

* ETHICS TRIAL FOR CHARLIE RANGEL; DEMOCRATS WORRY THAT A PUBLIC TRIAL WILL HURT THE PARTY IN NOVEMBER ELECTIONS; RANGEL DESCRIBED AS "DEFIANT", "UNREPETANT".... While the Democratic leadership in Washington would very much like to avoid an ugly public trial over ethics allegations against the 20-term Harlem congressman, Rangel does not appear to be particularly cooperative along these lines.  From today's Washington Post:

   Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) hunkered down Friday as he prepared to stage a public battle over allegations that his financial dealings broke House ethics rules.  His determination to fight the charges has left Democrats fearful that an ethics trial, planned for mid-September, could wind up tarnishing the whole party just weeks before the midterm elections.  (WP)

And from the New York Times:

   Representative Charles B. Rangel and the House ethics committee have been exploring a settlement to the numerous accusations against him, which would allow the 20-term congressman to avoid an ugly public trial and could prevent further political damage to Democrats nationally.  Talks broke down on Thursday after more than a month, according to lawyers involved in the negotiations, prompting the committee to begin the process to hold rare public proceedings on ethics charges against a member

   In interviews on Friday, the lawyers described the negotiations as contentious and said that a defiant Mr. Rangel continued to frustrate committee members with his unwillingness to admit wrongdoing in connection with several of the accusations against him. But they also said they were open to reaching a deal..........

    In a news conference on Friday at his office in Harlem, an unrepentant Mr. Rangel asked his constituents to withhold judgment, while he acknowledged that the lengthy inquiry was taking an emotional toll on him.  “I’m in the kitchen and I’m not walking out,” Mr. Rangel, 80, said. He added that the testimony he planned to give at the public hearing would “make certain, before this election, people know who Charlie Rangel is.”

   Behind the scenes, however, Mr. Rangel’s legal team continued working to pre-empt the hearing and the release of the report from the investigative subcommittee of the ethics committee. That report, part of which is expected to be released next Thursday, found evidence that Mr. Rangel had violated House ethics rules in a number of areas. 

   The two sides must grapple with what kind of punishment Mr. Rangel would agree to in a settlement, like a reprimand or a letter of censure. Some Republicans have pressed for him to give up his seat, but it does not appear that the negotiations included any requirement that he agree to resign or end his re-election bid.  (NYT



A.M. MEMOS - Saturday, July 24


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L.A. City switch to Google gmail webmail service not in place yet; conversion was supposed to be completed by June 30....


   The city of Los Angeles was supposed to be using Google's Gmail webmail services by now, a controversial move announced nine months ago as a money saving measure that actually cost the city $1.5 million above it's old email contract with Novell.

   The migration from Novell's email services to Google was supposed to be done by June 30, but the Los Angeles Police Department put on the brakes as a result of security concerns, according to MarketWatch.  The delay could increase that amount to $2 million over what the city previously paid for email services.

   In fact the delay could cost the city an extra $415,000, according to MarketWatch. Google has reportedly vowed to reimburse the city the cost of the delay, which it claims should only reach about $135,000.

   Despite Google's development of a special "Gov Cloud" version of its services to address municipal security concerns, the LAPD isn't happy with the level of security provided by Google.

   According to MarketWatch:

 ... the L.A.P.D., which must meet California Department of Justice security requirements, said in [a report to the city] that it had concerns about Google Apps' data encryption, "segregation of city data from other data maintained by Google," and background checks for Google employees with access to police department information.

Google has developed "Gov Cloud," a service that could provide enhanced security for the department's use of Google Apps, though certain issues remain, the department said in its report.

In addition, department employees who have been using the software on a pilot basis have experienced delays in receiving their mail, according to the report: "Given that the L.A.P.D. is a 24/7 operation, which relies upon email/Blackberry notifications for public-safety-related incidents across the city, these delays are not acceptable."  (LA Weekly)


Mayor Names New L.A. City Planning Director: MICHAEL LoGRANDE.....

 * WORD OUT OF CITY HALL THIS AFTERNOON REGARDING SELECTION OF NEW DIRECTOR OF PLANNING....  L.A. Times reports that the mayor has selected Michael LoGrande, a 13-year City Hall veteran to replace Gail Goldberg, who retired earlier this month as director of the Planning Department, according to city officials familiar with the selection process.  LoGrande, the city’s chief zoning administrator, will be put in charge of a Planning Department that has been buffeted by budget reductions, including the departure of a number of senior planners.........

   The City Council must vote to confirm any general manager selected by the mayor. On Friday,

   A formal announcement is expected Monday.  (LAT)