Lessons to be learned from the city of Bell
As the courtroom drama unfolds in the prosecution of former city of Bell officials, with all of the haughtiness and greed, surely, anyone in the public spotlight caught up in any sort of malfeasances, or perhaps, even misunderstandings — whether willingly or not — should be taking notes. With each witness’s testimony, the fact that these people so willingly disregarded their duties as public servants entrusted to do business in the best interest of the residents of their city is so shameful, it’s almost unbelievable.
Currently, Angela Spaccia, the assistant city manager, is on trial for her role in the corruption scandal with the egregious bloating of the salaries of top officials, including her own at more than $500,000 and the city manager’s at more than $1 million. The city of Bell has roughly 35,000 residents and one in four residents lives in poverty. While she has testified that she was just doing her job under the direction of former City Manager Robert Rizzo, at what point does a person take responsibility for his or her own actions and realize that something is wrong and do something about it? That point has not come for Spaccia, apparently, and certainly not for former Police Chief Randy Adams. Adams, who worked at Ventura Police Department for 23 years and served as Simi Valley’s police chief from 1995 to 2002, decided last week that he would testify in court in Spaccia’s defense, even after invoking his Fifth Amendment 20 times previously. Adams has not been charged with any wrongdoing; his salary as Bell’s police chief was $457,000 a year, substantially higher than those of L.A.’s police chief and New York City’s police commissioner.
An email exchange offers insight into Spaccia and Adams:
“I’m looking forward to see you and taking all of Bell’s money?!” Adams wrote in 2009. “Okay ... just a share of it.”
Spaccia replied, “LOL ... well you can take your share of the pie ... just like us!!! … We will all get fat together.... Bob has an expression he likes to use on occasion. Pigs get Fat ... Hogs get slaughtered!!!! So as long as we’re not Hogs.... All is well!”
Adams said that the emails were taken out of context, acknowledging that it had more to do with the fact that he told Rizzo and Spaccia that they — the city — couldn’t afford him. And he was right. It must have seemed obvious to a man who had spent 30 years in law enforcement that his salary was ridiculously high. It might have been a wise decision, instead of accepting such an offer, to perhaps call his buddies back in Ventura County and ask them if they felt it was a bit too much. Instead, he accepted the job and served the residents of Bell until he was forced to resign. Since the scandal broke out last year, Adams has sought to double his pension based on his tenure in other cities where he worked but a judge has since rejected the former’s chief effort.
With all of this reprehensible behavior now out in the public for all to see, we could all learn a few lessons about how to conduct ourselves once caught with our hands in the pockets of those we promised to serve. But if we can’t learn from others, we are unfortunately doomed to keep making the same mistakes. And when lawsuits against the city of Oxnard keep popping up — former City Manager Ed Sotello sued the city for harassment and retaliation, though the suit was dismissed in late October, and this week, some of the former city officials who received a $300 monthly retirement perk that was later found to be unlawful filed a defamation complaint against the city, specifically naming City Councilman Bert Perello — it is pretty clear that at least one lesson of Bell has surely been missed.