When no watchdog barks

When Sherlock Holmes searched for a missing racehorse, the fact that a watchdog failed to bark proved to Holmes that no stranger had entered the stable.

But in Bell, Calif. — where city officials systematically looted the municipal treasury for their personal gain — there’s a different reason no watchdog barked: There was no watchdog.

The blue-collar suburb of Los Angeles, with a mostly Hispanic population of 35,000, had its own community newspaper until the 1980s. Since then, it has mostly been served by the Los Angeles Wave, a weekly paper that covers dozens of LA suburbs.

The editor of the Wave told a Chicago newspaper that his paper didn’t have the resources to cover every suburb fully. No reporters attended Bell City Council meetings or examined the city budget.

So ex-City Manager Robert Rizzo could give himself a salary of $800,000 a year,  and use city funds to provide loans for friends with no one the wiser. Mayor Oscar Hernandez and the City Council could draw salaries around $100,000 a year for part-time jobs.

It wasn’t until two Los Angeles Times reporters stumbled upon news of the excessive salaries in Bell while researching a story about a neighboring city that the Bell scandal erupted in July.

This week Rizzo, Hernandez and all but one council member were arrested and charged with defrauding constitutents of more than $5.5 million. There is a state lawsuit to recover the money, and it is likely the city government will be placed in a receivership.

We can’t guarantee all this would have been prevented if Bell had its own newspaper. But, if there were reporters attending council meetings, writing about city budgets — in short, acting as journalistic watchdogs — it would have been far more difficult for Bell officials to turn the city coffers into their personal bank accounts.


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

  • Custodian Ii

    Performs custodial duties and supervises the custodial crewmember...

  • Parts Shipper/receiver

    DUTIES:Picking, packing, and shipping of parts.Inspecting all...

  • Teller

    Grand Junction Federal Credit Union,Is seeking someone for a full tim...

  • Rn After Hours

    Registered NurseAfter HoursLooking for nurses who like to work ni...

  • Delivery Route

    BUSINESS OPPORTUNITYWould you like to deliver newspapersa...

  • Office Assistant Position

    Office AssistantPositionProfessional appearance with attention to...

Search More Jobs

734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050; M-F 8:00 - 5:00
Subscribe to print edition
Advertiser Tearsheet

© 2016 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy