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.

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

© 2015 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy