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Bell’s interim administrator survives termination effort

The administrator who has been leading the embattled city of Bell since a salary scandal this summer survived an effort to oust him from City Hall on Wednesday, disappointing residents who viewed him as an associate of the town’s failed leaders.

Lorenzo Velez, the only council member not criminally charged in a sweeping public corruption case that at times has left the city paralyzed, called for Pedro Carrillo’s firing. Velez said Carrillo was too closely linked to the city’s old administrator, Robert Rizzo.

But after a two-hour closed-door session, the council did not vote on whether to oust Carrillo, leaving him in charge of the battered city. Velez declined comment after the meeting, and the more than 100 residents who had shown up expecting that Carrillo might be ushered from City Hall, left confused and angered.

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“I am and remain the interim” chief administrative officer, Carrillo said. “It’s unfortunate. The theatrics here are unfortunate.”

Even in a city that has weathered scandal after scandal and watched as some of the town’s top leaders were led away in handcuffs, it was a strange moment.

Documents: Read the 100 day report and Times’ coverage of the Bell scandal

Had Carrillo been dismissed, it would have pushed the city into an uncertain future and put the city’s leadership –- if only temporarily —into Mayor Oscar Hernandez’s hands. Hernandez is facing public corruption charges and has largely vanished from the scene since he was arrested along with other council members and former city leaders, including Rizzo.

It also marked what’s likely the last time the current council will have to part ways with Carrillo, a consultant who had worked as Rizzo’s assistant for nearly two years. Except for Velez, every member of the council faces recall in the March elections, and the city’s charter prohibits the council from firing the city administrator within three months of an election.

After The Times revealed the inflated salaries, the small working-class city in southeast L.A. County has been under scrutiny by various agencies amid charges that city leaders imposed illegal taxes and fees on residents, helped themselves to huge salaries and lent hundreds of thousands of dollars to City Hall staffers.

Before going into closed session, Velez distributed a package containing the names of four candidates who he said stood ready to replace Carrillo. The candidates included Michael Busch, with the consulting firm Urban Futures; Henry Garcia, city administrator of Rialto; Sam Racadio, former interim city manager of Redlands; and Rick Paikoff, director of administrative services in Irvine.

It was unclear how Velez compiled the list, and several of the candidates said they had no idea they were even under consideration.

Garcia said he was unaware that he was one of the candidates, and had no interest in leaving his post in Rialto. He said if he were to assist Bell, it would be on a pro-bono basis.

“No one from the city of Bell, neither from the government or of the community, approached me about it,” Garcia said. “I don’t know how my name got out there.”

Cristina Garcia, a leader of the activist group Bell Assn. To Stop The Abuse, expressed anger that Velez — the lone council member supported by her group — would even consider pulling together a list of candidates without input from the community.

“Today a trust barrier has been crossed,” Garcia said. “We have said from the start that we want due process, we want the community to be involved.”

For weeks, members of Garcia’s group have called for Carrillo’s ouster, prompting the administrator to draft a 77-page report on his accomplishments during his first 100 days in office — rolling back taxes, chopping payroll and inviting state and federal officials to investigate.

“I want him out despite what’s going to happen with the city,” said Bell resident Marcelino Ceja. Ceja said he was troubled by the fact that Carrillo’s company, Urban Associates, had been on the city’s payroll when Rizzo was in charge.

Although Carrillo had been forthcoming about payments to his company, Ceja said he still wasn’t comfortable with the connection even though he acknowledged that the interim city administrator has been doing a good job.

When he took over, Carrillo requested assistance from state Controller John Chiang. Audits conducted by Chiang’s office led to rollbacks in property tax rates and a reduction of business fees. He also cut high salaries of some city administrators and made public the salaries of all city employees.

Lorenzo Martinez, a longtime resident, said he was unsure whether Carrillo should be ousted. “We want him out, but we have a lot of issues in the city,” Martinez said. “Where is the city going to be? Are we going to benefit from it, or is it going to hurt us?”

ruben.vives@latimes.com


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