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Bell leaders to consider city attorney

The Bell City Council will hold a special meeting Monday night to consider hiring a new city attorney, but some residents say one of the three firms competing for the job has an inside track.

The hiring of a permanent city attorney is a pressing issue facing the council. The city’s former attorney was criticized for not doing enough to restrain allegedly lawless behavior from the town’s former administrator and other officials, who paid themselves high salaries as the city struggled financially.

Attorneys for one of the three firms will succeed interim City Atty. Jamie Casso, who was appointed last summer amid the scandal and resignation of Bell’s former city attorney, Edward Lee, of Best Best & Krieger. The city also terminated its contract with that firm.

Soon after his appointment in August, Casso, of the firm Meyers Nave, was required to handle issues including investigations by federal, state and local agencies and hundreds of public records requests submitted by the media, activists and residents.

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“They provided a public service to Bell,” interim Chief Administrator Officer Pedro Carrillo said of the firm.

The firms bidding for the contract Monday night are expected to make presentations at Bell City Hall.

Some residents say the firm Aleshire & Wynder has a good chance of winning because it provided free legal work to the activists who helped bring about a new City Council.

Bell resident and activist Alfred Areyan, 54, said attorney David Aleshire provided more than $100,000 of legal help during the March recall campaign.

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“He’s an honest man who stepped up to the plate and helped our people get out of this mess,” Areyan said.

Most of the pro bono work was for the activist group Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse, or BASTA, which means “enough” in Spanish. The group’s slate won three council seats in the recall election.

Some residents say the firm’s connection with the group and current council members creates a conflict of interest.

“I’m concerned because there are three members of BASTA in council,” said Carmen Bella, a longtime resident and activist.

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Mayor Ali Saleh, part of the BASTA slate, said: “Whoever the city hires will be working for the city and not one group.”

BASTA received most of its funding from the Bell Police Officer’s Assn. The officers union also is trying to negotiate a contract with the city.

During the recall campaign, the union also received cease-and-desist letters from the city over mailers containing photos of officers in uniform that urged Bell voters to save the 84-year-old Police Department. Officials said the mailers violated state law.

Aleshire & Wynder provides legal services to the cities of Banning, Signal Hill and Suisun City, which is northeast of Vallejo in the Bay Area.

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Aleshire was the city attorney for Irwindale, where officials were accused of misspending city money on lavish New York trips that included outings to five-star restaurants and Broadway shows.

He was among city officials on a May 2001 trip.

When asked by The Times whether it was his job to advise council members on the legality of their conduct, Aleshire said, “I picked my battles.”

Other Bell residents acknowledge the perception that Aleshire may be the favorite because of his firm’s interaction with current Bell council members, but most say they support him anyway.

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Others seeking the job are the Law Firm of Jimmy Gutierrez and Green, De Bortonowsky & Quintanilla LLP.

ruben.vives@latimes.com


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