Engaged citizenry needed

The conviction of the former assistant city manager of Bell, Angela Spaccia, concludes the final chapter of this public corruption scandal. It has become a lesson in the importance of citizen involvement and oversight of their government.

Spaccia, along with her boss and former administrator, Robert Rizzo, and five council members perpetrated a massive fraud for their own personal gain in a city of low-income and working people.

Meanwhile, Rizzo plead guilty this week to defrauding the IRS by filing false tax returns. According to prosecutors, the former Bell city manager perpetuated his fraud by hiding and altering documents so that he could then sign contracts and negotiate for other activities without securing the authorization of the City Council.

The last straw was a tax increase for sewer, trash and other public services, overcharging the residents of Bell some $ 5.6 million. One million dollars of that money then illegally made its way into the pockets of Spaccia and Rizzo.

The magnitude of this fraud, uncovered by the LA Times, occurred in large part due to a lack of public scrutiny of the local government. City managers took advantage of the situation to pay themselves extravagant salaries and elected officials were compensated for meetings and activities that never took place.

In the aftermath of this scandal, new laws have been enacted and auditing systems have been strengthened, but these will do little if city residents do not participate in public meetings and if they fail to question the work and priorities of elected officials and city managers.

Hopefully, the Bell experience is a wake-up call for a more engaged citizenry in all cities, large and small.