February 16, 2011

Why public official city email addresses are important

The news articles below regarding the continuing saga of the rampant corruption in the City of Bell is a reminder about what LAAG has been saying for some time: City council members using private email to conduct matters related to the city is ripe for abuse. The emails below were likely from public or city official email address used by Rizzo and others at the city. Had these emails not been on the city email server which was readily available to prosecutors (but rather on some private laptop or on a private email server that would require additional legal hurdles to get to) those emails would likely have never been located, even in a criminal investigation. City officials could also have argued that their "unofficial" city email was mixed with their "private" email and as such the entire private email account was off limits in any public records request for a city council person to produce all incoming and outgoing massages from such "private account". This is a huge problem in Lakewood as none of the current city council members have an official city email address (i.e. name@lakewoodcity.org) and in fact two of the current committee members running for city council are also guilty of the same problem most likely (Jeff Wood and Joy Janes). So if Janes and Wood, who have been commissioners in the city for years, dont have city email accounts after serving in the city for years, what are the chances they will do so if elected? You get the point. The other problem of course is unlike most cities, even the people in the city that DO have official city email addresses, they are not posted on the city website for all to see! (surely out of a fear that some angry citizen will contact them in writing and they wont be able to delete the email off the city server it as easily as they can voice mail).

Again the Bell debacle is what results from a lack of transparency.  It creates an environment ripe and tempting for abuse and it leads to misinformed voters who really have no sense of what is REALLY going on in the city behind closed doors. It is not that impropriety is always occurring but rather it creates an air of suspicion and an "appearance of impropriety" and this is a huge problem in and of itself. The fact that no current city council member or candidate has put forth a comprehensive transparency pledge or plan, other than just vaguely talking about it in a "talking point" or using the phrase as "window dressing" for the useless campaign fliers littering the mail now, is telling. Buyer beware. Talk is cheap and campaign promises are made to be broken. The only two rules in politics are (according to lobbyists we have talked to): 1. get elected; 2. get re-elected.

Revealing e-mails unveiled in Bell scandal
Monday, February 14, 2011

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Explosive evidence was unveiled in court on Monday in the city of Bell's salary scandal. Prosecutors filed documents quoting e-mails between former city officials that they say reveal their actions to hide their exorbitant salaries.

E-mails and other documents from former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia's computer will show that beginning in 2005 she and former City Manager Robert Rizzo created phony contracts never approved by the City Council that raised their salaries to "outrageous" levels and made it difficult to determine exactly how much they were being paid, according to the 19-page memorandum from District Attorney Steve Cooley.

The e-mails were sent in 2009 by then assistant city manager Angela Spaccia as city officials were preparing to hire Randy Adams as Bell police chief.

Spaccia: "We have crafted our Agreements carefully so we do not draw attention to our pay. The word Pay Period is used and not defined in order to protect you from someone taking the time to add up your salary."

Adams: "I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell's money?! Okay ... just a share of it!!"

Spaccia: "LOL ... well you can take your share of the pie ... just like us!!! We will all get fat together ... Bob has an expression he likes to use on occasion ... Pigs get Fat ... Hogs get slaughtered!!!! So as long as we're not Hogs ... All is well!"

Rizzo had an annual salary and benefits package of $1.5 million a year when he was fired last year. Spaccia, who was also fired, was making $376,288 a year. Each of the six current and former council members facing charges was making about $100,000 a year.

Adams, who was paid $457,000 a year, was also fired but has not been charged with a crime. Prosecutors say simply accepting a huge salary is not illegal.

A hearing may begin this week to determine if there's enough evidence to try Spaccia and former city manager Robert Rizzo on felony charges of misappropriating public funds.

E-mails show Bell officials sought to conceal their high pay

Originally printed at http://www.wavenewspapers.com/news/local/E-mails-show-Bell-officials-sought-to-conceal-their-high-pay-116193539.html
February 14, 2011

Prosecutors filed court papers Monday citing e-mails in which Bell’s former assistant city manager wrote that “we have crafted our agreements carefully so we do not draw attention to our pay” and another saying “we will all get fat together.”

In the court filing, Deputy District Attorneys Sean Hassett and Juliet Schmidt argued there is “substantial evidence” that former City Manager Robert Rizzo and former Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia “intentionally concealed their actions that were designed to grant themselves exorbitant pay.”

The filing documents e-mails sent in 2009 by Spaccia to Randy Adams as the city was preparing to hire him as its police chief.

“The word pay period is used and not defined in order to protect you from someone taking the time to add up your salary,” Spaccia wrote in one e-mail cited in the prosecution’s filing.

The prosecutors said Adams wrote in a separate e-mail, “I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell’s money?! Okay ... just a share of it,” and that Spaccia responded, “LOL ... well you can take your share of the pie ... just like us. We will all get fat together.”

“Bob has an expression he likes to use on occasion ... pigs get fat ... hogs get slaughtered!!! So as long as we’re not hogs ... all is well,” the document quotes Spaccia as e-mailing.

Rizzo, 57, and Spaccia, 52, are awaiting a hearing — which could begin this week — to determine if there is enough evidence to require them to stand trial on felony charges alleging they misappropriated public funds.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry G. Hall is expected to first determine if six current and former Bell City Council members should proceed to trial on similar charges.

Last week, the only current City Council member not criminally charged as a result of the public corruption probe testified that Rizzo virtually ruled the small blue-collar city in southeast Los Angeles County.

“Everything had to go through” Rizzo, Lorenzo Velez testified last Tuesday during the preliminary hearing for Mayor Oscar Hernandez, 63; Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, 53; Councilman George Mirabal, 61, and former councilmen Luis Artiga, who turns 50 on Tuesday; George Cole, 61; and Victor Bello, 52.

After finishing the preliminary hearing for the six defendants, Hall is expected to hear evidence against Rizzo and Spaccia, as well as additional charges against Hernandez and Artiga.

Rizzo is also charged with conflict of interest and misappropriation of records in a separate case that is expected to be heard last and to take about a day.

The eight were arrested Sept. 21 on allegations that they bilked taxpayers out of roughly $5.5 million through hefty salaries, benefits and illicit loans of public money.

Rizzo and other top city officials stepped down last July after the salary scandal broke.

The City Council members, who were earning almost $100,000 a year, significantly slashed their pay, but most balked at calls for their resignations. Artiga announced last October that he was leaving his post, saying “it’s in the best interest for the city of Bell that I resign.”

Lawyers for the six current and former Bell City Council members said their clients rejected plea deals that would have brought them two-year prison terms in exchange for admitting guilt and paying back all the money they allegedly looted from the city treasury.

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