RICHMOND -- While Councilman-elect Gary Bell remains hospitalized in Redwood City with meningitis amid continuing mystery over his condition and prognosis, city staff has agreed to waive penalties for his tardy campaign finance reports.
Bell's family had received mail notices charging him $10 for every day he was late with his final campaign statement following his Nov. 6 election, Councilman Nat Bates said.
Bates had put an item on Tuesday's City Council agenda seeking council approval but pulled it after learning that City Clerk Diane Holmes had already waived the late charges unilaterally.
"The family is dealing with a serious medical situation," Bates said. "It doesn't make any sense to fine the guy and give them any more to worry about."
Bell was struck with viral or bacterial meningitis in the weeks before the Nov. 6 election, according to friends and associates. He was hospitalized in the days before his election then released before being rushed back to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Richmond on the afternoon of Nov. 10.
Doctors in Richmond decided to transfer Bell to a Kaiser facility in Redwood City for emergency surgery to relieve swelling on his brain. The Redwood City campus is home to the Neuroscience Center that provides specialized neurological care to Kaiser members from all of Northern California.
Bell's campaign coordinator, Angela Smith, responding to dozens of concerned residents on Bell's Facebook page, wrote Nov. 12 that Bell was recovering from two surgeries on his head.
The next day, Nov. 13, Holmes sent a letter to Bell's address saying all penalties for late reports would be waived.
"My staff and I are praying that you will have a complete recovery," Holmes wrote.
Since then, information about Bell's condition and prognosis has been scant. Smith said Bell's wife, Shelley, and his two adult sons "want privacy right now," and added that she is not receiving updates on his condition.
Staff at Redwood City Kaiser have said no patient under the name "Gary Bell" is at the facility. But Bates said Bell is there and remains in the hospital's intensive care unit. Bates said he visited the Redwood City hospital on Thanksgiving Day and chatted with Bell's wife and sons but was not admitted into Bell's room.
"I talked with Shelley and gave her my support and comfort," Bates said Tuesday. "I have no idea what his condition is. If (Bell's family) wanted me to know, they would have volunteered that information, so I didn't ask."
Bell, 54, was elected to the City Council on Nov. 6 with just over 15 percent of the vote, earning him the third and final available seat. Incumbents Bates and Tom Butt were re-elected, meaning Bell is set to be sworn in as the only new council member Jan. 8. If Bell cannot perform the duties of the office, the City Council can either vote on a replacement or call a special election.
"The charter calls for the swearing in on Jan. 8," Holmes said, adding that there is some uncertainty about whether the date may be delayed in the event that Bell needs more time.
"We'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it," she said.
Bell is president and CEO of Cooperative Federal Credit Union in Berkeley. A call to the credit union was not returned Tuesday.
Bell was first elected to the Richmond City Council in 1999, serving one term. In 2006, he ran for mayor in Richmond, losing in a tight three-way race with Gayle McLaughlin and incumbent Irma Anderson.
This year, Bell defeated Richmond Progressive Alliance candidate Eduardo Martinez by a narrow margin. He raised more than $60,000 for his campaign, his most recent filing reports show, and benefited from more than $100,000 from Chevron Corp.-funded independent expenditure committee Moving Forward. The committee spent nearly $200,000 more opposing Martinez and Marilyn Langlois.
Holmes said Bell was late with two campaign finance reports, which she added was "out of character for Gary."
A filing due on Oct. 25 was turned in one day late, and a report due Nov. 2 was never filed, Holmes said.
Bell's political rivals at the RPA said they signed and sent a get-well card to the family.
"We certainly wish him well and a return to health," said RPA member Mike Parker.