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Broken Cities or Civic Renewal?

Just over two years ago, the citizens of Bell, California, discovered from an exposé in the Los Angeles Times that their city officials were among the highest paid in the nation, in spite of the city’s underperforming economy and high unemployment rate. After some officials were arrested, the city was left with no functioning government and empty coffers.

This might seem like the least favorable environment for encouraging civic engagement in public affairs, but that is not how Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership saw it. Davenport’s Pete Peterson helped the new civic leadership design a process to bring everyday citizens directly into the redesign of government and its budget.

According to one account, “Since his involvement with the city began, Peterson’s partnership with Bell’s new and interim management has served as a living, breathing case study of public engagement and civic renewal, one that he hopes will inspire other cities to adopt further dialogue between local government and residents. [As Peterson said,] ‘I’ve been tremendously encouraged thus far by both the citizens of Bell and the new city leaders, who have been at the forefront of trying to change the identity of a city now known as a symbol of corruption.’”

On October 26th we gathered to discuss what happened in Bell, California, and how the city is trying to move forward.

Required Reading

Pete Peterson, Liberty…Bell?, Fox & Hounds Daily, January 24, 2012.

Please read Rick Cohen’s coverage of this event in The Nonprofit Quarterly by clicking here.

William Schambra, Moderator

Director, Bradley Center for Philanthropy & Civic Renewal

Christopher Gates, Panelist

Executive Director of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement

Kenneth Hampian, Panelist

Former Interim Chief Administrative Officer, City of Bell

Pete Peterson, Panelist

Executive Director of the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University

Ana Maria Quintana, Panelist

Council Member, City of Bell

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