Californians wonder how city officials got high pay

By Jeffrey Anderson – The Washington Times

BELL, Calif. | A group of passing high school students paused in front of a TV news truck set up for another day in what was a weeklong vigil in front of City Hall last week. The questions they asked of reporters reflected the confusion of a community that has come unmoored over revelations that public officials here were paying themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual salaries.

“Are they taking money out of the schools?” asked 11th-grader Janet Sanchez. “Where does all that money come from?”

“Are they going to jail?” asked Alejandra Ceballos.

“All these authorities were getting the money,” Janet said. “How can we trust any of them?”

The answer is uncertain, and the frenzied response to the exorbitant salaries in this working-class Los Angeles suburb shows no clear end in sight.

California’s attorney general, the state comptroller and the Los Angeles district attorney have announced separate probes, as residents have protested and struggled to make sense of the revelations that public officials were being paid up to $800,000 per year, with part-time City Council members making as much as $100,000 annually.

The crisis threatens to destabilize a largely poorer part of Los Angeles County, where some cities have as high as a 96 percent Hispanic population and where as many as half of residents are ineligible to vote because of their immigration status.

Census figures show that more than half the residents of Bell, 53.3 percent, were born outside the United States. The 2-square-mile city has a population of 36,000, according to a sign “tagged” with gang graffiti off the freeway at the edge of town.

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