Civic group will ask candidates to provide information for credit and criminal checks.
In a show of civic involvement in a town that has been marked by scandal and voter apathy, 10 people filed paperwork Friday to run for City Council in Bell.
The vote is expected to complete the overthrow of the elected officials and administrators who had run Bell for 17 years. Most are now facing felony corruption charges.
The March 8 ballot will offer voters in the small city in southeast Los Angeles County the rare opportunity to elect an entirely fresh council. Voters will be asked to fill the unexpired term of Luis Artiga, a local pastor who resigned from the council after being charged with misappropriation of city money, and decide whether to recall three other council members facing the same felony charges: Mayor Oscar Hernandez, George Mirabal and Teresa Jacobo.
Lorenzo Velez, the lone council member not charged in the scandal, is seeking reelection.
In an unusual campaign tactic, the city’s largest activist group, Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse, has announced it will not make endorsements but will ask candidates to provide information so it can run credit and criminal background checks.
Cristina Garcia, a BASTA leader, said the group wants the information as a baseline because of allegations that council members have enriched themselves while in office.
“We want to know if they are able to handle their own finances, because now they’re going to be in charge of our finances,” she said.
Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said he had never heard of a citizens group asking candidates for such information. “But then this is an unprecedented situation,” said Stern, who helped write the 1974 Political Reform Act, which requires candidates to disclose some financial information.
A new council will be faced with a daunting mission. Not only will it have to choose a city manager and city attorney, but it could be governing a city in desperate financial straits.
A county audit aimed at determining whether the city is solvent is expected by year’s end.
The council also will be expected to rebuild the trust of residents. Though once meetings were sparsely attended, the new council will find its every move scrutinized.
Since The Times revealed that then-City Administrator Robert Rizzo was making a salary of nearly $800,000 a year and that four council members were earning almost $100,000 for their part-time jobs, city residents have crowded the council chambers and spent hours loudly berating their representatives.
The council has cut its members’ salary 90% to $8,076 annually.
A recall of Hernandez and Mirabal would amount to a symbolic kick in the jaw because their terms are ending, and neither is running for reelection. Jacobo’s term runs through 2013.
Contacted at home Friday, she said, “I have nothing to say.”
Candidates who wished to run for the seats held by Hernandez, Mirabal and Velez had to file paperwork by Friday.
Those seeking to replace Artiga and Jacobo don’t have to file until Dec. 23. Although he resigned, Artiga still is the object of the recall.
The election has already brought out local political heavyweights. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, Assemblyman Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and his predecessor, Hector De La Torre, support the recall. Roxane Marquez, spokeswoman for Molina, who represents the area, said she expects her boss to endorse candidates.
Garcia said the scandal has pushed residents to care more about local government.
“It’s a moment to show the country that we do care and we are going be involved,” she said.
“We could be a model of how to engage the community and create those educated voters.”