Downey quick to respond to Bell controversy

Just two days after the second of its twice-monthly regular monthly meetings was held last Tuesday, the Downey City Council right this very minute is convening a special session to decide whether or not to dismiss Ed Lee as city attorney.For this development to happen is unfortunate because of Lee's longevity of service to the city and the inestimable degree of expertise in municipal law matters that he has brought to bear on its policy-making process over the years. But this sticky situation can't be helped either. Lee is a partner of Best Best & Krieger's municipal law practice group, which handles a portfolio at last count of 24 municipalities, including the cities of Downey and Bell. Councilman Mario Guerra issued the following statement prior to the special meeting: "I am disturbed when any association is directed at Downey with cities like Maywood (sic) and Bell. To be put in the same breath is an embarrassment to our city staff, city council and more importantly, to our citizens. We are a great, conservative and ethical city and any association with them and us is wrong and I resent it. I will not condone our city attorney representing Downey and also Bell, although I am not tainting him personally. I have admiration for our city attorney and he has done a good job for Downey. But perception even by association with those cities is wrong for Downey. " As everybody knows by now, the expos?® by the L.A. Times of the atrocious salaries and estimated pensions of Bell's city manager, assistant city manager, and police chief, plus the equally bloated emoluments ($100,000) of four city council members, has caused an explosion of anger and resentment at the abuses that have been perpetrated. And the furor wouldn't subside. Consequently, the LA County district attorney's office, the state attorney general, the state controller and the FBI have all sprung into action and begun independent probes to determine the culpability of the parties concerned. It also goes without saying that the Bell brouhaha has transfixed all of California, and sent shock waves everywhere as a reminder to all those enjoying power and privilege to exercise restraint and good judgment in the performance of their public duties. In this regard, Downey city leadership was quick to notify the public of its salary structure. In a July 27 press release, the city said the city manager's annual salary is $220,480 and that of the assistant city manager's $200,719 while the police chief draws $195,159. A resident knowing these figures (as they are detailed in the city budget) and noting their mega-counterparts ($787,636 for the city manager, 376,288 for the assistant city manager, and $457,000 for the police chief) in Bell, exclaimed: "Boy, our city officials definitely look like saints now!" Guerra on council members' remuneration, reciting press release figures: "Members receive a stipend of $697.35 each month, with the mayor getting $821.61 monthly." Then, tongue in cheek, he said, "We receive no health, retirement, or any other benefits, except a nice parking spot." Assistant city manager Gilbert Livas pointed to the city administration's transparency policy, saying that what happened in Bell represents a "real black eye for all public officials, and we don't want to get painted with the same brush. Here in Downey, we try to get the best and the brightest [people] so we can have good government." "We want to acknowledge the importance of having a local press," said assistant deputy city manager Scott Pomrehn. "If Bell had a press presence to report on budgets and city staff as well as city council goings-on, I don't think these things would have happened to the city." "People should remember," he is quoted in the press release as saying, "that every salary of every position is available on-line [for anybody's scrutiny] in the city's annual budget." Further, he emphasized that the "open and transparent nature of Downey's budget has always been the highest priority of both the city council and city administration." When asked by this reporter before Tuesday's meeting for any statement he might have, Lee replied almost apologetically that he couldn't say anything for obvious reasons: he wants to avoid entrapment. As to his fate, we'll know soon enough.

********** Published: July 29, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 15