The City did nothing illegal when it amended its charter in 2005. It simply changed its status from “general law” to “charter law.” This change allowed them to ignore the limits that the state places upon the salaries of members of a city council.
How did they make this change?
They asked the voters. And, in a city of 40,000 people, a grand total of 336 voters showed up to vote, according to today’s edition of the Los Angeles Times.
Some have pointed out that the ballot, which contained only the vote on whether to become a charter city, made no mention of city council salaries. That is true. But did the voters who bothered to show up really believe that something put on the ballot would have no effect if it passed?
The voters should have done a little homework. Were there no lawyers among them who understand the difference between a general law city and a charter law one? The distinction allows a charter city to make many of its own rules.
A check on Wikipedia would have told them: “A city organized under a charter may choose different systems, including the ‘strong mayor’ or ‘city manager’ forms of government.”
I would call the Bell system a “strong city council” form of government, but the point is that with a little diligence, some of the voters reading their sample ballots could have sensed some big changes. Apparently, no one did much about it because the initiative passed.
Now, about those who did not vote. How many of them have shown up recently to Bell City Council meetings to protest this outrage? Maybe some of these non-voters will start voting now that they see the consequences of elections. But shame on those who sat the election out and who now cry about it.
And what about the whopping city manager and police chief salaries? It is not at all surprising that those who got their hands in the trough fed a few of those who might otherwise have complained about the city council salaries. Corruption feeds corruption, but this happens when people do not watch those who govern them.
Now the people of Bell have a mess on their hands. They have pushed the council to fire the same people they fed big salaries to. The consequence will be that people across the state will have to pay, in part, for their big pensions.
Cast stones at whomever you want. But if you don’t pay attention to the people whom you have allowed others to serve you, one of the stones will come back and hit you.
The author is a city government employee in the State of California.