Calif. Watchdog Investigating Bell Police Union

LOS ANGELES -- California's campaign watchdog said Friday it is investigating whether the scandal-ridden city of Bell's police union violated state law when it sent out a campaign flyer supporting candidates in a March recall election.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission said it is looking into whether the Bell Police Officers Association was properly identified as the source of the handout.

Angry voters in the blue-collar Los Angeles suburb, where one in six people live in poverty, voted their entire city council out of office last March after revelations that council members and other top officials were paying themselves enormous salaries.

Three of the five people elected in their place were endorsed by the Bell Police Officers Association.
Rival candidates complained that some flyers for the police-supported candidates showed Bell officers in uniform, but the FPPC's executive director, Roman Porter, said the commission isn't concerned with that.

Instead, the agency is looking into whether voters were properly informed that the flyers came from the union, he said. If it is determined that campaign reforms laws were violated, penalties could range from a warning to a fine of as much as $5,000.

Police union spokesman Leo Briones called the investigation "much ado about nothing," adding the complaints were brought by rival candidates and their supporters, whom he dismissed as "sore losers." He said he expects the union to be exonerated.

During the campaign, rival candidates also filed complaints with Bell's city attorney, who ordered the union to stop displaying photos of officers in uniform in its campaign materials, saying it was a violation of Bell Police Department policy.

Briones said the union complied and, to his knowledge, no action has been taken against any officers.

Bell officials became the target of numerous investigations after the Los Angeles Times reported last year that its former city manager, Robert Rizzo, had an annual salary and compensation package of $1.5 million and that most of the part-time council members were paid about $100,000 a year.

Rizzo, his former assistant and six former council members are awaiting trial on numerous fraud charges.
Meanwhile, the state ordered Bell to refund millions of dollars in property taxes and other fees it said were collected illegally, leaving the city of 40,000 residents as much as $4.5 million in debt.

One of the major issues raised during the election was whether Bell can afford to continue operating its own police department or should hire the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to provide public safety.

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