For Whom the Bell Tolls

By Alex Distefano

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Posted August 26, 2010 in News

As the anger and outrage intensifies over the City of Bell’s salary scandal, more and more citizens, members of the media and even elected officials are doing all that they can to expose corruption or, in certain cases, pass legislation that might prevent fraud, abuse or misuse of public funds.

Such is the case in the IE, with Joel Anderson, a state Assemblyman (R-Alpine) who is also running for the State Senate seat for the 36th District, which includes areas of southwest Riverside County.

Anderson, who won the GOP primary election for the Senate seat this past June, recently saw victory when a bill he wrote, AB 1399 was passed, and signed by lame duck Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in July.

“What AB 1399 does is very simple,” Anderson tells the Weekly in a phone interview. “It makes city and county officials accountable for their personal use of public assets.”

Anderson decided to write up this new piece of legislation because he had heard media accounts about Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, who apparently allowed his sister to use a taxpayer-paid county vehicle on more than one occasion over several years. Public records and news reports show that Lori Stone has worked for her brother as a “volunteer” for his office. Yet, records also revealed that she was paid tens of thousands of dollars for her work, pay that came out of Stone’s campaign fund.

Stone later told local reporters that he let his sister use a county vehicle because of the miles and hours she put in doing volunteer work for his office, and that, under current county rules, it was legal.

Stone did not respond to the Weekly’s request for comment on this story.

Anderson stresses that his new bill will prohibit any county elected officials from hiring an immediate member of their family—if that elected official functions as the direct supervisor for that family member. The bill would also prohibit an elected county official from making a gift of public funds, such as the use of any government-issued vehicle, unless the public first gets a chance to vote on it.

“This is a bipartisan issue, it was passed on both the House and Senate floors with absolutely no objections,” Anderson says, mentioning that the bill had 22 co-authors, half of which were Democrats.

“With all this talk about what’s going on in the City of Bell, I don’t think anyone thinks county cars should be issued to anyone with no oversight,” Anderson says. “But I do want to say that this is not a personal issue against anyone. Jeff Stone didn’t do anything wrong because at that time there was no rule against it. There is a reason why no department head or employee has that ability and it should be the same for elected officials. That is the bottom line.”

Anderson also boasts that the bill has the unwavering support of many unions, tax groups, chambers and other elected officials.

“This is because everyone sees that it makes sense, and the proof is that it has been codified.”

However, just because the bill had unanimous support in both floors of the senate and assembly, Anderson asserts one thing. “I am in the minority party and, believe it or not, that makes it hard to get bills passed.”

According to http://info.sen.ca.gov, the bill would only apply to “public vehicles and credit cards.” The website also states that “AB 1399 allows a local official to let any volunteer use publicly funded office space, phones, computers, faxes, copiers, tools and equipment, regardless of the volunteer’s relationship to the local official.”

Anderson admits there were some arguments about the legislation before it was passed, but people eventually concluded that it made sense.

“People wanted this bill to be broader, some thought it should be narrower, but it can be always visited later,” Anderson says. “It is definitely a good start for us, in the right direction.”

According to Anderson, the new law goes into effect on Jan. 1, but that reports of it having any personal political overtones are nonsense.

“Everyone wanted to make more out of this than what it actually was,” Anderson says. “Good laws get passed like this all the time an in many cases, they are corrections to the system, or a way to fix loopholes. Moving forward we want to make sure that all suits and council members live under the same rules as their employees.”


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