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For residents of impoverished, defrauded Bell, Calif., it's payback time

The little city of Bell, Calif., became a symbol of greed and failed government when it was found that city officials had awarded themselves huge salaries. On Tuesday, the voters get their say.

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It started as a local story about small-city graft but quickly grew to become a national symbol of greed and failed government.

Nine months ago, the 40,000 residents of the city of Bell, Calif., – where 1 in 6 lives below the poverty line – became incensed with the discovery that several city officials were making six- and seven-figure salaries after creating secret boards and giving themselves outrageous raises.

Now, the light shined on the city of Bell by journalists, public officials, and the courts will reap large lessons from coast to coast, several political analysts say. As eight current and former officials await trial for fraud, Bell voters – one-fourth of the city’s population – will select five new city council members Tuesday from among 17 candidates in a recall election.

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Among those awaiting trial and subject to the recall vote: Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, and Councilman George Mirabal.

“Many of these officials will be going to jail, and we’ll see who voters choose to replace them,” says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. She says that rather than just being a heinous anomaly, this Bell episode is illustrative of a bigger problem across the country.


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