In Bell, California, population just 40,000, a bedroom suburb of Los Angeles there is no media watchdog.
Perhaps that’s why the city’s Chief Administrative Office who began in 1993 at a salary of $72,000 a year was given successive raises to bloat his 2010 salary to $787,637 dollars a year! By contrast President Obama’s salary is just $400,000.

No one noticed. No one reported it. The public was screwed.

In Bell where 1 in 6 residents lives below the poverty line the Los Angeles Times discovered Is a city manager worth $800,000 a year? the Assistant City Manager made $376,288 a year, the mayor and three of four part-time officials made $90,000 and $100,000 a year, and the city police chief earned $457,000. The city police force has 50 officers, by comparison, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck is paid $307,000 to manage a force of 1,300.

No local paper or radio reports on Bell. There is no daily newspaper. TV rarely covers Bell except for a traffic accident or helicopter chase on the freeways, episodic events that have little impact and only passing interest.

Few people obviously paid sufficient attention. I suppose they trusted their officials would behave responsibly and do the right thing, not rape the city treasury and the public’s faith. They were too busy working, living, being with their families – there was no one from the media to keep the officials honest – covering routine hearings, meetings, budget drafts… the pick and shovel work, what used to be called shoe leather of local reporters.

An Associated Press story on the city’s situation captured this quote, “This is America and everything should be transparent,” plumber and longtime Bell resident Ralph Macias said.”

The AP’s story continued, “By law, the council would have had to approve the contracts in an open session, but several residents complained that officials are loathe to explain what they are doing and quick to race through matters at public meetings with little discussion.”

But no one was there to notice.

And that’s what happens when you cut the media, cut reporters, look to savings the can be accrued by off-shoring local reporting to writers in other countries, even as far away as India who watch local meetings online and seek to synthesize what really occurred?

Some will call this the “new media.” I do not think it is much to crow about.

Frank Rich has written a compelling Op-Ed piece (6.4.10) in The New York Times Don’t Get Mad, Mr. President. Get Even asking if or when the British Petroleum gulf oil spill will finally trigger Mr. Obama’s anger to reach a boiling point. I think for many Americans, especially those living from Texas to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and to Florida, that tipping point passed some days ago.

Doesn’t it bother any one but me that he seems so measured?  So level headed… so unflappable even as pelicans and other shore birds die; just as beaches, industries and communities all slathered in oil may not recover for a generation?  Doesn’t this disaster rise to the level where some one in government, some one in charge, can appear to be righteously pissed off over the event, the handling, the aftermath and the guile of the company and executives in charge?

And then comes the story from The Washington Post Gitmo Becomes $500 million Camp Costly that the government’s investment in facilities at the prison camp includes features that might be considered by some, especially those suffering from the downturn in the current economy, to be lavish by any standard.  Fast-food franchises, an Irish bar, astro turf and playgrounds (mostly unused) litter the base even as its mission is on the decline and the urgency of these constructions seems to be mitigated?

A story in the Seattle Times over the weekend reported fees for the Washington Mutual bank failure have topped $100m and are still climbing.  Of course these are fees that to be paid from whatever is salvaged from the assets even as that means an even smaller fiscal pie is left to pay back to investors.  What was most alarming was the line that attorneys are charging $925. and hour for their services.  That’s a higher rate than most criminal attorney’s charge on capital cases!  Doesn’t any one wonder whether this seems exorbitant?  Is there a better way, a more affordable way?  Should there be?

The lessons learned from the bank failures and the catastrophic consequences of the financial meltdown are still yet to be calculated.  But for those responsible, isn’t tar and feathering an option worth reconsideration?  Shouldn’t many Americans who are living on savings, borrowed money, who have lost jobs and in many cases are losing hope, what little remains, aren’t they justifiably angry?  What’s wrong with showing anger?  What’s wrong with being authentically mad?  Why is showing anger something that seems to be out of place?

I cannot help but recall the lead character from the movie “Network” who asked his viewers to go to their windows and scream, “I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more.”

On the eve of election night here in California, as well as other states, I do wonder when the electorate will find its way of expressing its simmering anger… not just in a ‘toss the bastards out” kind of knee-jerk response, but when will we demand and get better?

Taxes and fees are rising while services are declining, dwindling and diminishing.  Is this a good deal for any of us?  Some one will have to explain this to me as if I am a child because while I understand what is happening, and what seems inevitable, I am at a loss to comprehend how some people are trying to spin this as a positive thing in our lives?

Recently Colorado Springs announced it might turn off one-third of all its street lights to save money.  I guess this is the same logic that Toyota used in determining it would be less costly to hide defects in lieu of announcing a recall, with all that inevitable negative  publicity and notoriety.  I think that’s called calculated risk – what a few law suits would cost when weighed against the harsh negative glare.

So Colorado Springs may darken some lights… I guess the first fender bender or trip and fall will be less expensive than providing the public with the amount of light that was once determined to be in the public good.

There was an article recently in The New York Times that subway ridership was down but the cost of running the trains was rising, so the transit agency spokesmen explained fewer riders will have to pay higher fares for the privilege of using the service.  And there was a story in the San Francisco Chronicle that Bay Area transit agencies were so bloated with executive’s high salaries that they will never have sufficient ridership to pay that burden.  Instead they are cutting routes and decreasing service frequency, presumably creating a hardship for the riders, but no where in the article was there any indication the agencies were grappling with the inherent, underlying problem.

I guess their calculated risk is that no one will come to the transit agency offices with the intent of storming the gates and tar and feathering executives and those responsible.

We lost a lot when tar and feathering went out of style… just imagine…

Look – I admit I do not pretend to have the answer.  I see all this as a conundrum.  I see the coverage of these stories as little illustrations if fruitless dialogue.  The public certainly and justifiably feels screwed just as agencies and governments retreat behind barricades and bromides offering defensive assertions that mega salaries are required to assure they have best and brightest management.  The best and brightest – and this is what they have given us?  Yet another conundrum.
The over arching system feels rotted.  The supporting assumptions and beliefs seem brittle and broken.   Let’s call it for what it is – the system is broken and until those in charge step up and admit the changes required are more difficult (and personal) than simply raising taxes and fees while cutting services we will have little meaningful resolution.