The Anaheim City Council is scheduled during its closed session Tuesday to discuss the job performance of interim City Manager Bob Wingenroth.
Councilwoman Kris Murray scheduled the review, and speculation among insiders at City Hall is that it is in response to Wingenroth’s recommendation against a $158-million tax subsidy that a split council granted to a hotel developer last month.
Murray — who voted for the subsidy along with council members Harry Sidhu and Gail Eastman — did not return calls seeking comment. The controversial vote has divided the previously placid City Council and caused uproar among residents, who have decried the subsidy as corporate welfare.
Other council members interviewed — including Eastman, Lorri Galloway and Mayor Tom Tait — said they hadn’t discussed the issue with Murray.
Eastman said that while she supported Wingenroth and “admired” him for taking a stand on the issue, his recommendation could have angered council members who were in favor of the subsidy.
“I think he would have been better off had he been neutral on that,” Eastman said. She added, “I gotta admire the fact that he didn’t take the safe route.”
Given the council split and the continuing opposition, Eastman said, Wingenroth has “been doing the best job he can under the circumstances.”
Some have also speculated that the vote on the hotel subsidy — which was 3-2 with Tait and Galloway voting no — was the beginning of an ongoing council split in which Wingenroth’s evaluation would play a significant role.
Tait publicly said he feared such a split, saying at an impromptu town hall meeting at the council chambers that a divisive issue like the hotel subsidy tends to “blow councils apart.”
Other council members interviewed on the evaluation, including Tait and Galloway, said they still backed Wingenroth. “I think very highly of him. He understands the finances and the budget of the city better than anyone,” Tait said.
Murray was the lone vote against asking Wingenroth’s predecessor, Thomas Wood, to resign. She also was the only council member to vote against Wingenroth’s subsequent appointment.
Murray is the council member closest to the city’s influential business community, which strongly backed the subsidy. Sources close to City Hall said she is also closest to former Mayor Curt Pringle, a lobbyist who was thought to be firmly in control of City Hall even after he stepped down as mayor in 2010.
Pringle is also widely believed to be a lobbyist for Bill O’Connell, one of the partners in the GardenWalk hotel development.
The Council’s move to force Wood’s resignation was part of what some say is the beginning of a new era since Pringle stepped down. Pringle backed Tait during his bid for the mayor’s seat, but sources close to City Hall say that the relationship soured after Tait moved for Wood’s resignation.
Wood and Tait disagreed over whether contracts that don’t appear on council meeting agendas are as transparent as those that are. The disagreement happened during a discussion about Wood’s $250,000 signing authority, which was reduced to $100,000 before he was asked to resign.
— ADAM ELMAHREK