For one long-time resident, Compton offers the best of both worlds

Cleo Turner has lived in Compton for more than 50 years and has seen the drastic changes that The Hub City has gone through. He shares with us the inside of his home and what it is really like to live in Compton.

Watchdogs needed for cities like Bell

Local government corruption could be prevented if the public paid more attention to the structure and activities of their city councils, Assemblyman Hector De la Torre said at a panel discussion at USC earlier this month.

Residents of Bell were appalled when City Council members were recently charged with public corruption in a scandal uncovered by the Los Angeles Times. Charges include misappropriation of public funds, falsification of documents and conflict of interest. The investigation revealed that Bell’s city manager was being paid twice the salary of the President of the United states, while other members of the council were earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Corruption in Bell and other charter cities can be attributed to a lack of government transparency and accountability, panelist said at a discussion held Oct. 4 at the University of Southern California.

“You have city managers who get housing allowances, one-and-a-half million dollars to buy a house,” said De la Torre. “Some of these practices are happening up and down the state of California.”

With a declining number of local news publications and fewer reporters from larger newspapers covering city councils, residents have lost access to important information about local government affairs.

There is usually one reporter assigned to cover 28 cities said Bob Stern president, of the Center for Governmental Studies. In a telephone interview, he said more reporters focusing on government affairs would make a huge difference in smaller cities like Bell.

Panelists at the conference agreed.

“If you look at the number of reporters that city newspapers assigned to state governance today compared to 20 years ago, it’s traumatically reduced,” said De la Torre.

Panelists at the conference said most residents in Bell are working-class citizens who are struggling to make a living and do not have the time or resources to act as watchdogs.

The City Council of Bell took advantage of residents and their inability to monitor the city council, paying themselves huge salaries, with the city manager making nearly $800,000 a year.

Stern said that citizens in Bell faced an even bigger challenge than most residents of smaller cities because their City Council had often refused to release information upon request.

Panelists agreed that the members of Bell’s City Council acted without transparency, meeting secretly and withholding official government records from the public.

Times reporter Jeff Gottlieb said that he and his colleague Ruben Vives had to threaten to sue Bell to release documents of official salaries and City Council minutes.

Under the California Public Records Act, local government agencies are required to provide anyone who asks for information or documentation about their actions and spending. Most government records are considered public.

Gottlieb said the information he and his colleague received could have been sought by anyone.

“We don’t get documents that the average citizen can’t get,” Gottlieb said.

The Bell case is an issue less about corruption and more about education said De la Torre. There are always “bad people” eager to take advantage of a public that does not understand the structure, context or language of government he said.

There are many lessons to be learned from what happened in Bell said De la Torre. Among them, he said, that it’s important that this type of corruption is not seen as an isolated incident because it is a problem that other regions could face too.

De la Torre asked that the public not condemn all government officials and institutions.

“Trust but verify,” said De la Torre.

Preserving democracy with both broadcast and Social Media

By Anjuli Kronheim, Los Angeles Organizer, Southern California Democracy Matters Coordinator, California Common Cause

I am one those Millenials that broadcast media seems to be scared of.  These days, with the digital shakeup of our media landscape, no one is quite sure what the future holds. Everyone looks to my generation for answers. Where do we get our news and information (if at all)?

With all this in mind, I recently attended the Los Angeles Media Reform Summit and came away hopeful about the future. As one of the organizers, I knew that we wanted to move beyond “kvetching”, complaining about how times have changed without figuring out what alternatives could be.  In such a critical year, one that could alter the balance of power in Congress and provide a referendum on President Barack Obama, I clearly see the need for reliable, relevant information so that I as voter can make informed decisions.

As most everyone knows, newspapers, television and radio broadcasters across the nation are cutting staff and shrinking news coverage. As speakers at the Summit pointed out, most of what we read, see and hear in the mainstream media is controlled by only a handful of corporations. The Internet has experienced an explosion of blogs and Web-only publications. They are competing with traditional media, breaking stories and doggedly calling out mainstream media’s mistakes and biases. Some say the lack of content gatekeepers on the Internet compromises its legitimacy. Others say traditional media is compromised due to corporate ownership, and should be held accountable.

As Tapia Martinez Russ, another LA Media Reform Group member, said on Saturday, “New Media or old, the democracy depends on the flow of factual information.  Making certain that real journalism survives is priority one.”

Brad Friedman, Keynote Address at ‘L.A. Media Reform Summit’, 3/27/10

This is the third annual media summit they have organized but my first one. I was reassured to see so many people give up their Saturday and learn about media and democracy and future actions. Brad Friedman, election protection advocate and blogger for the Brad Blog opened the day with stories about the lack of coverage on ACORN’s side in the recent prostitution scandal. Another organizer Dick Price liked the rallying cry. “Brad Friedman gave a passionate come-to-Jesus speech on holding the citizenry itself accountable for holding corporate media and America accountable. It was a little stunning to hear him say ‘I blame you, if you don’t (take action),’ but it was definitely a motivating moment.”

imageThis was followed by a panel discussion with Steven Cuevas, reporter for KPCC; Brad Parker, activist, author and blogger for The Huffington Post; and Sue Wilson, director of the award-winning documentary, Broadcast Blues. Ian Masters, host of Background Briefing and The Daily Briefing on KPFK moderates. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas expressed a deep concern about the affect the Internet will have on the ability of trained journalists to do real reporting. He remarked that newsrooms have been hard hit in recent years, both by the switch in reading habits online and by our economic collapse. He sees public radio station news operations affected as well, though he thinks KPCC’s will rebound when the economy recovers.

The afternoon was filled with workshops from topics such as lobbying on hate speech to citizen journalism. The citizen journalism workshops were overflowing with participants and the Net Neutrality workshop organized volunteers to attend a day of action planned on Tuesday, April 6 to lobby Rep. Joe Baca and Rep. Loretta Sanchez on their Net Neutrality positions. 

“By breaking the workshops into two sessions, facilitators were able to glean and share information with like-minded activists, which seemed to kick up the discussions a notch,” said LA Media Reform group member, Sharon Kyle. The day closed with Anthony Samad, Ph.D, Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at East Los Angeles College. Sharon continued, “It was refreshing to hear Anthony Samad recount how the media played such a central role in the civil rights movement. Indeed, newspaper descriptions and photographs of blacks being attacked by dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham, Alabama, for instance, galvanized public opinion across the country and around the world. That’s something to remember as we work to remake media.” 

To follow what was said throughout the day, search #lamrs on Twitter. Everyone’s combined comments put the day in perspective for those who weren’t there and educates non-attendees on these vital democratic issues. 

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