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Tuesday Oct 15, 2013, 3:33 p.m.
Revised Wednesday, October 16, at 1:54 p.m.
Just months after the conviction of former Bell officials, payments to the city’s law firm are numbering in the millions of dollars.
By Brian Hews and Randy Economy
BELL, CA –Three years after the discovery that Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo and others had funneled huge amounts of the city’s funds into their pockets, Bell Vice-Mayor Ana Maria Quintana is accusing the City Manager and City Attorney of manipulating the city’s books in order to hide exorbitant legal fees.
Quintana told Hews Media Group-Community News in a lengthy sit down interview that she claims to have recently discovered the existence of a “secret fund that was created by the current City Manager and City Attorney that serves to hide the huge legal fees.”
During her investigation, Quintana, a graduate of Yale and Columbia Law School and a practicing real estate transaction attorney, made several public records requests that she said were never released by the city.
Quintana indicated that her persistence finally got her the records, but in the interim she was removed from all committees to represent the municipality at several outside agencies. She said that city council members are also threatening to remove her as a Member of the City of Bell (Redevelopment) Successor Agency.
Quintana said that she was “dismayed” and “shocked” after she had a chance to look over internal city documents, including emails and past staff reports, where she claims to have seen “manipulation of the city’s books and hiding of fees.”
Quintana claims that once she threatened to go public with the evidence, she said that Bell administrators hastily called for financial “town hall” meeting which is to be held at 6:00p.m. at the Bell Community Center, located at 6250 Bell Ave. At least one Southern California news radio program reported on the meeting early Tuesday morning in a broadcast.
“Each month, the City Attorney sends bills to the City of Bell requesting payment for a specific amount (agreed the parties to be in the range of approximately $100,000/month), then secretly defers payment of a much higher amount, which is credited to a hidden funding account called ‘Client-No-Pays’,” said Quintana.
Quintana’s own calculations to date based upon the 2012-13 City of Bell’s financials show the City Council approving warrants totaling $2,173,755.90. Quintana claims the actual figure is $3,224,940.28.
“The problem is that neither the City Council nor the community had been informed of the extra $1,051,184.38 in expenses accrued since September/October 2012. There was no approval sought from the City Council to create this fund nor a written contract to prove its existence,” said Vice-Mayor Quintana. She added, “It is now over $1 million dollars, why wasn’t this made public and why is this still continuing?”
Several efforts by Quintana to place the item on the council agenda have been re-buffed.
“In response to my questioning, the City Attorney has provided instructions on how to censure me to the City Council resulting in my removal from my committee assignments, and now they are trying to strip me of the Vice-Mayor title.”
“In light of the history of Bell, it is questionable whether the deferred billing arrangement reached between the City Manager and City Attorney meets the standard of transparency the residents of the City of Bell deserve,” she asserts.
Quintana laments that “despite efforts to improve government transparency in the wake of the scandal, Bell’s residents are, once again, unaware of how their hard-earned taxpayer monies are being spent.”
CITY MANAGER RESPONDS TO QUINTANA
Bell City Manager Doug Wilmore blasted Quintana in a phone interview with Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper on Tuesday over her allegations.
“There is no secret slush fund, period, and there is no attempt to hide anything from the public or the media regarding our finances,” he stressed.
“The city attorney has done an amazing job and deserves a massive amount of credit in helping turn the City of Bell around. Without Dave Alshire and his firm, Bell would have declared bankrupt months ago. We need to celebrate what Dave has brought to our city,” Willmore said.
Wilmore said that city council members are slated to give Alshire a seven-figure pay check within the next thirty days.
“We will be paying Dave Alshire and his firm $1 million for the work he has done and his payment was directed and authorized by the city council,” Wilmore said.
“The liabilities have been tremendous. Because of Dave’s work we have gotten back $7 million in legal fees and also avoided $15 million in payouts in potential liability lawsuits,” he sternly stated.
Wilmore also admitted that the contract with Alshire does not have a “cap amount” when it comes to how much taxpayers could eventually pay the firm.
“The city council has directed him to do the work. Nothing has been done in secret. Over this next couple of months people are going to talk about the Bell Miracle and how we made a comeback, together,” Wilmore said.
COPYRIGHT BY HEWS MEDIA GROUP, COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Permission for republication granted with PROPER ATTRIBUTION. FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL 562 407-3873.
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