How did the city officials of Bell, CA, manage to convince the mostly low-income citizens of their municipality to fund such outrageously high salaries? Writer Conor Friedersdorf at Forbes.com argues that the townspeople never agreed, they didn’t even know about the high salaries. The reason? There was no watchdog reporter covering city hall.
Why Every City Needs A Beat Reporter
Conor Friedersdorf, 07.29.10, 05:43 PM EDT
…Each member of the city council was being paid six figures. Over time, the citizens of Bell were bilked out of many millions of dollars paying city officials outlandish sums.But no one knew!
This despite the fact that California law makes salaries of all government employees a matter of public record. All anyone had to do was look at the paperwork on file at city hall–and any halfway decent beat reporter assigned to the city would’ve known to do exactly that as a matter of course.
Said Kevin Roderick, founding editor of LA Observed, “We’ve heard of all this lately because of some good, solid reporting by the Los Angeles Times. The paper sent reporters in to see what was happening in Bell and hasn’t let up, running story after story and throwing fuel on a much-needed citizen uprising there.” (Read Friedersdorf’s the entire essay here. Below is a link to the LA Times’ multi-media Special Report)
A Times report on the huge salaries of top administrators and elected officials in the small, working-class city of Bell has ignited community anger, calls for resignations at City Hall and condemnation from politicians and civic groups. Most council members are earning nearly $100,000 for part-time work, far more than the $400-a-month stipend recommended for a city the size of Bell. The Los Angeles County district attorney and the state attorney general have opened inquiries.