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Bell, California: Moving From Secrecy to Sunshine

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Bell-seal

We can't keep our eyes off the City of Bell, California -- and for good reasons.

The city gained notoriety in 2010 when the Los Angeles Times began to expose high salaries for city officials who did next to nothing. It was a problem that had been brewing for years, as the LA Times charted in a timeline of the corruption.

Bell's government is different now.

Bell has most recently been in the news not just for reaching a culminating point in the scandal -- the trial of six former city council members on corruption charges -- but also for a high transparency grade as part of a government website review. Sunshine Review, a non-profit that examines state and local government transparency, gave the city an A- grade in the 2013 Sunny Awards. The grades are based on whether certain information like budgets, open meeting laws, and lobbying records are posted online, as outlined in this checklist.

This is one indicator of the many steps the city government has taken toward greater transparency. Bell's efforts are notable for several reasons.

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Rethinking civic participation

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What would a 21st century town hall meeting look like? Is there a better way to hold public meetings than to give each person three minutes at a microphone to have their say? The city of Bell, California, might have some of the answers.

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