With the Anaheim mayor’s seat now open and the Angel Stadium sale deal dead amid corruption allegations, some public officials and activists are hoping to seize the moment to push for lasting changes to what they have. considered a “company town” essentially run by large business interests.
Mayor Harry Sidhu resigned on Tuesday, about a week after an FBI investigation against him emerged. The arrest of former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament on charges of mortgage fraud is also fresh.
The allegations made in documents from the two men’s inquests – Sidhu has not been charged with a crime – paint a picture of a mayor hoping to use his position to secure a deal to sell the stadium and collect campaign contributions and a city ruled by a self-proclaimed “cabal” of influential business and political figures who steered mayoral decisions, in part by pouring money into local elections.
Anaheim City Councilman Jose Moreno is using the opening to reinvigorate a package of campaign finance reforms that was rolled back in 2019, and Orange County state lawmakers are considering bills to address some of the alleged abuses of power currently occurring in the city.
Moreno said his proposal has three parts: Potential candidates for mayor or city council would not be able to form campaign finance committees — a necessary step to begin fundraising — until a year before the election; city officials could not vote on contracts or projects that would benefit someone who donated to the official or political action committee that supported them; and the fundraising window to pay off campaign debt would be six months after the election – there is currently no deadline.
“It’s all about regulating the behavior of the council member or the mayor,” Moreno said. “Just know that if you have business with the city, you don’t buy it.”
He also called for an audit of all Sidhu campaign contributors who have ongoing contracts with the city; City Manager James Vanderpool told council on Tuesday that the review is ongoing.
State Sen. Tom Umberg said Friday he was working with Assemblyman Tom Daly on a bill to clarify that a city council or other government agency can void a contract if its negotiator has acted. outside of his authority.
For example, if a lawyer negotiates a deal and “says to the other party, ‘Oh by the way, I know my client is offering a million and I know we could really go up to $2 million,’ and we make a deal for $2 million,” the client might object that the attorney was not authorized to give that information, Umberg said.
He thinks the ability to void a contract in these circumstances is in existing law, but the new bill will “make that crystal clear”, he said.
In court documents, FBI investigators allege that while the city was negotiating to sell Angel Stadium to Angels owner Arte Moreno’s company, SRB Management, Sidhu sought to pass on confidential information, including the city’s valuation . The Anaheim City Council voted Tuesday to cancel the sale.
Anaheim resident Carlos Leon, who plans to run for city council in November, told council on Tuesday that he should consider revising the city charter. In a phone interview, he said that could take the form of an independent ethics commission to oversee the council, or the city could move from a municipal prosecutor hired by the council to one elected by the council. voters, which could make them more responsive to the community.
“It’s been too long that city council members have been able to do business without really being accountable to residents,” Leon said.
Political pundits said if Anaheimians are embarrassed or unhappy with the way their city is run, they should turn it into action, and soon.
“The only time you see successful reform efforts is when you have a scandal like this,” said Bob Stern, who helped draft the 1974 law that created Fair Political Practices. California Commission. “Now is the time to act.”
One of the main complaints from local activists is the big election money in Anaheim, and that much of it comes from the city’s biggest employer, Disney. A 2021 campaign fundraising report from the Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee showed that Disney gave the PAC $1.3 million last year; this money is usually used to support council and mayoral candidates.
Councilman Moreno on Tuesday implored big campaign contributors to stop pumping money into the city’s elections. Community activist Jeanine Robbins said Friday that with the spotlight on the city, “perhaps under pressure, businesses in Anaheim will stop donating to candidates’ campaigns, and for the first time we will have a board that will truly represent the people.”
SOAR PAC executive director Jill Kanzler could not be reached for comment on Friday. A Disney spokesperson had no immediate comment.
Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University, predicted angry Anaheim voters could fire the incumbents this fall, but he doesn’t expect a sea change in local politics.
“When you have those two factors of politicians who need money and business interests who want to give money, they will find each other,” he said.
However, some small changes have already taken place. At Tuesday’s council meeting, Pro Tem Mayor Trevor O’Neil said he would remove a Sidhu rule that council members need the agreement of two colleagues to put an item on the agenda. day, and he lifted a time limit on board member comments and questions.
“I think it’s great,” Moreno said Friday of the rule changes. With the “cabal” seemingly losing its perceived influence over council members, “left to their own devices, I actually think there are opportunities to build that trust” with the community, he said.