There was no local press or government watchdog group keeping an eye on City Hall - and thus the city officials used taxpayer money as their own private stash.
In this mostly poor immigrant city of 40,000 where one out of six residents is below the poverty level, the city manager was earning close to a million a year, the sheriff about 1/2 million, and the part-time council members were earning about $100,000.
This week the mayor, city manager, and some of the council members were arrested for misappropriation of public funds and conflicts of interest to the tune of about $5.5 million. The citizens celebrated in the streets when they learned of the arrests.
One of the city council members arrested was the local pastor of the Bell Community Church, Luis Artiga, pictured above.
The LA Times reported in August that Artiga was appointed to the city council to fill an expired term not knowing what his compensation would be, and when he got his first paycheck he thought it was "a miracle from God." According to AP, Artiga also received unauthorized loans from the city manager.
Why did this scandal happen?
It's very simple. Where there is little to no financial transparency with how servants use other people's money, the money will usually be misappropriated to some degree. This was an extreme case - District Attorney Steve Cooley called the Bell scandal "corruption on steroids". When spenders know the givers are watching how nickels and dimes are spent, these types of shenanigans are very unlikely.
As reported by AP:
There is that word: transparency. Financial transparency, that is. It is all the rage in government. Texas governor Rick Perry was credited with starting the trend in 2006 when he started posting online his office expenses and salaries. Now most states have passed financial transparency laws "placing records of government expenditures within the reach of the curious on the Internet."
"Since the scandal broke, public officials, city managers and others have said the situation in Bell showed why people must insist that elected officials communicate honestly and openly with them.
'One of the problems that was obvious with Bell was the lack of transparency and the lack of involvement on the part of the public,' Dave Mora, West Coast regional director of the International City/County Management Association, said recently.
Cooley praised the Times, saying the scandal occurred in part because residents and much of the news media paid little attention to what was happening at Bell City Hall until the story broke.
Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia resigned and the council members reduced their salaries to about $8,000 following the disclosures."
When will our mega churches and our convention agencies get on board with the trend?
Until they do, giving by churches and individuals won't be as high as it could be, and unnecessary expenditures will continue to consume too much of the money that is given. Talk to Mary Branson about the waste she saw at NAMB under Bob Reccord. And mega churches are becoming less transparent, not more. And those asking questions about pastor salaries, gifts, nepotism - well, they aren't too welcome anymore. Or their wives.
So are the SBC leaders more interested in protecting their turf and their salaries and their bennies than they are reaching the nations? If they are serious about spreading the gospel as effectively as they can, they should try a little more financial transparency, and a lot less guilting the sheep into giving using a false tithing doctrine based on Malachi 3.
I don't think they'll do that, however. Look what happened at Bell as described in the AP quote above: when the city officials had to be transparent with their incomes and subjected to close public scrutiny by the givers of the money, the council member's salaries dropped from $100,000 to $8000 in no time flat.
Amazing what a little financial transparency will do.
By the way, I wonder if Pastor Luis Artiga's church practices financial transparency now?