Commentary: Bell salary scandal is just the tip of the iceberg

The Los Angeles Times has been all over the scandal in Bell, one of dozens of small cities in the shadow of Los Angeles itself.

Two Times reporters, hearing that the county district attorney was looking into abnormally high salaries of Bell city officials, ferreted out documents that proved the allegations, including a nearly $800,000 salary being paid to the city manager.

It was startling even to the residents of Bell, which has a population of fewer than 40,000, most of them relatively poor Latinos. The ensuing furor, including more revelations by the Times, drew global attention, forced the city manager out and sparked drives to recall the City Council.

If nothing else, it underscores the vital role that vigorous journalism plays in society – and the sleaziness that flourishes when no one is watching.

It was bad news for other California city officials, who have been pushing a ballot measure, Proposition 22, aimed at protecting local treasuries from state raids. They quickly denounced the Bell situation and assured voters that it's an aberration, not the norm.

Unfortunately, Bell is not as isolated as the governmental establishment would have us believe. For the most part, Southern California media ignore what's been happening in the region's small cities, and it's not a pretty picture.

Ventura City Manager Rick Cole, writing for PublicCEO.com, a website devoted to local government, observed:

"The cities on southeast Los Angeles County weren't deliberately drawn to systematically victimize the overwhelmingly Latino populations that now live there. With the exception of Vernon and Commerce, they were once reasonably prosperous suburbs.

"They housed the working-class families employed in the aerospace, auto, rubber and steel plants that once dominated the second largest industrial concentration in the world.

To read the complete column, visit www.sacbee.com.