By Steven Tavares

You can call it the Bell Factor. When officials dip their ladle too deep into the the people’s pot of soup during rough economic times, expect an outcry.

Alameda Fire Chief David Kapler’s alleged defrauding at the city’s gas pump is the latest local angle to the apparent free-for-all in Los Angeles County where officials in Bell reaped substantial benefits in the one of the poorest areas of the state.

The Island reported yesterday Kapler gassed up his personal vehicles on the city’s dime. Kapler says it is part of his service contract. The city now says there is no reference to fuel in his contract. To make matters worse, Kapler was photographed red-handed last weekend filling up his sports car.

What exactly is going on in Alameda? A few weeks ago, Councilwoman Lena Tam was accused of proffering information given in closed session to various outlets allegedly favoring a deal with the developer SunCal to remake the old naval airbase in Alameda. The smoking gun in that case was emails from Tam reportedly uncovered by Alameda’s controversial interim city manager. The city council ultimately ran SunCal out of town and some observers believe Tam will eventually be cleared. At the time of disclosure, the city’s firefighters notably came out in defense of Tam and this is where both these potential scandals pivot along with Mayor Bev Johnson’s candidacy for city council, a person familiar with the city’s politics and fire department.

According to the Chronicle, firefighters in Alameda ratted out their chief after giving the offending photo and gas log to Johnson yesterday, but the mayor has also tangled with her fire department in recent months. During Johnson’s unsuccessful run for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors last June, observers believed her tough stance against public safety would be her downfall. She garnered just 30 percent in losing to the Wilma Chan. Johnson is now running for one of two seats on the city council.

In both the SunCal-Tam story and the fire chief’s fuel fiasco, the crucial piece of information implicating opponents–whether emails or gotcha photos–has landed on Johnson’s desk as a vehicle to thwart  her challengers.