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SH city attorney working pro bono to help Bell citizens recall their controversial officials

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Signal Hill and Lawndale City Attorney Dave Aleshire is working pro bono for BASTA, a grassroots citizens group that is trying to recall corrupt Bell officials.

Signal Hill and Lawndale City Attorney Dave Aleshire is working pro bono for BASTA, a grassroots citizens group that is trying to recall corrupt Bell officials.

-A Signal Tribune Exclusive-
By Steven Piper
Staff Writer

After the recent City of Bell scandal, during which it was revealed that council members were earning more than $100,000 and a city manager was making in excess of $800,000, Bell citizens were enraged that their officials lived up to the common stereotype that all politicians are corrupt.
As a testament to the positive potential of his profession’s position in local politics, Signal Hill and Lawndale City Attorney Dave Aleshire is working pro bono for BASTA, a grassroots citizens group that has taken the lead to recall corrupt Bell officials. “It is a little payback for our profession,” Aleshire said. “Will the public see this as an isolated, aberrational situation? Or is the public going to say, ‘Oh, there they go again. That just shows you, they’re all corrupt.'” By helping Bell citizens take their city back, Aleshire hopes to change the blanket impression that all city officials are pursuing their own self-interests.
In Spanish, “basta” can mean “stop” or “enough,” and, as an acronym for that city’s purposes, it stands for the “Bell Association to Stop the Abuse.” The group meets on Wednesdays every other week in a local mosque. With more than 80 members among its ranks, it did not take long for Bell residents to organize after learning of the criminally large salaries that their city council members and city manager were earning. Enraged citizens showed up at the Nov. 1 council meeting (the first one since a couple of Los Angeles Times reporters uncovered the scandal), and their loud protests called a premature end to the gathering— it was too loud to conduct any business.
Since then, BASTA has adopted and encouraged its slogan “BASTA With Respect” (or “Stop With Respect” ). It was at that raucous meeting, however, that Aleshire met Christina Garcia, a speaker representing BASTA, marking the start of his affiliation with the organization. “A friend of mine, Paul Phillips, was a former city manager in Maywood. Since Maywood neighbors Bell, he (Phillips) had worked with some people that were in Bell, and they knew that he had been in Maywood and left,” Aleshire said. “They got in touch with him and asked if there was an attorney or someone who could help with this.”
Aleshire ended up being that individual. Since his involvement, BASTA has made substantial progress in recalling the city’s council members by filing a petition with Bell.
First, a petition stating the reasons for the recall had to be published and approved by the city, which requires 2,500 signatures for the recall of each individual council member. If four council members were to be recalled, then 10,000 signatures would be required.
In BASTA’s case, it took 20 days to collect 16,000 signatures. “If there are enough signatures, then it goes back to council to set the matter up for election,” Aleshire said. “We are basically all the way through that process.”
BASTA trained 85 citizens to use a certified voter log to verify the legitimacy of signatures— an accomplishment that reflects within itself a higher purpose. “When this is all over, what they really want is an educated citizenry that will watch over their government, watch what’s going on, and do a better job making sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Aleshire said.
If everything goes as planned, after the upcoming March 8 general election, there will be four new council members and possibly a new mayor.
In order to make the voting process simpler, BASTA plans to inform citizens to bypass the recall elections, which would require voters to recall the council member while simultaneously selecting a replacement. “If you don’t vote for the recall of that council member, your vote as to the successor person won’t count,” Aleshire said. “So you have to vote for the recall and the successor.”
Instead, the group hopes to persuade voters to use the general election as their opportunity to flush the council clean of the members targeted for recall, which excludes councilman Lorenzo Velez, who was only earning $8,000 annually for his public service.
“We are going to have four elections in March,” Aleshire said. “For the nominating election on the recalls, we are just going to discourage anybody from running for those offices, and we won’t endorse anybody for those offices.”
Since three of the council seats’ terms are up in March, Velez’s seat included, those positions can be filled during the general election without any unnecessary recall procedures. The remaining seats whose terms will not be up for another two years will be filled in two ways: Councilman Luis Artiga, who has already resigned, will have his seat filled by means of a special election; and the other seat will be filled through the recall and nomination process.
“We are going to go for the three people up in the general election, the special election, and then the recall of the person that still has a two-year term,” Aleshire said. “One of the things that BASTA is very concerned about is that this election is going to be so confusing because there are so many different questions on it.” Before the elections, BASTA plans to host numerous town hall meetings to inform the public of their plan of action.
In the meantime, the citizenry has to manage more than three months with its current officials— a number of whom are fresh out on bail— like Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, and Councilmember George Maribal.
To ensure the City maintains transparency before the elections, a case has been filed with the attorney general on behalf of BASTA. “The attorney general said in order to convince a judge of this we need declarations from people about how the city is not being transparent, and you can’t get documents, and you can’t get information,” Aleshire said. BASTA presented unacknowledged public records requests to the judge as proof. According to Aleshire, the first of the attorney general’s two lawsuits requests that the City stop spending money in certain areas, that excess compensation be returned to citizens, and that an injunction be put in place to stop illegal expenditures.
A second lawsuit filed by the attorney general on behalf of BASTA requests that a monitor be installed to oversee the City’s movements. “There isn’t anybody who is coming back and doing a report on the state of the city’s finances,” Aleshire said. “The residents have a huge concern that, with all the things that have occurred, there won’t be trustworthy council there until March. How much bad can be done to the city in the next four months?”

This story is the first in a series.

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SH city attorney working pro bono to help Bell citizens recall their controversial officials