Anaheim City Council members remain split over the controversial approval of a $158-million tax subsidy granted to a hotel developer, battling this week over whether to strip Mayor Tom Tait of his mayoral powers.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Councilman Harry Sidhu — who with council members Gail Eastman and Kris Murray voted for the subsidy — moved to strip Mayor Tom Tait of his special mayoral power to place items on council meeting agendas and to instead require a majority council vote.
But before council members could vote on Sidhu’s proposal, Councilwoman Lorri Galloway called it retribution against Tait over the subsidy controversy. Tait and Galloway voted against the subsidy.
“I know that the city staff sees it this way, and I know anyone who is paying attention to this sees it that way. People aren’t blind,” Galloway said. “Turning against one another personally, professionally or vindictively is wrong and sad, and I will not participate.”
Council members in a rare split voted on Jan. 24 to grant the subsidy, which allows a partnership headed by Bill O’Connell and Ajesh Patel to keep 80 percent of the bed tax generated by two planned four-star hotels at the Anaheim GardenWalk center.
The subsidy has caused a split in the community. Some union members and residents call it a giveaway of public funds without any community benefits. Building trade union members and some in the business community argue that the subsidy will create jobs and spur economic growth.
Tait scheduled a special council meeting soon after the vote to try to reverse the council’s decision, but the three council members who voted for the subsidy didn’t attend. Lacking a quorum, the meeting became an impromptu town hall for residents to express outrage about the deal.
Murray requested that the mayor’s agenda power be placed on the meeting agenda. She said that she wanted to discuss the policy because the council handbook that details agenda-setting policy seemed out of line with the city charter and hasn’t been approved by the council. The city charter, Murray says, calls for a “level playing field” regarding the governing powers of council members.
Murray also denied that the issue was an attempt at retribution.
“It just couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Murray said. “There is nothing vindictive about asking for an open discussion on a policy that governs deliberation.”
Tait said that requiring three votes to place items on the agenda would be “anti-transparent.” He also said that no mayor has abused the special agenda-setting power.
“I don’t recall in my year and a half [as mayor] an abuse of that. I don’t recall the mayor before me abusing that,” Tait said.
Despite Murray’s opinion that the agenda-setting policy is in conflict with the city charter, she voted with the majority to formalize the current procedure. The only dissenting vote was Sidhu’s.
Murray also asked for and the council ordered a staff study to compare current council procedures with the internationally accepted standard for parliamentary procedures, Robert’s Rules of Order, and suggest changes.
“It [the council handbook] should be a formal policy if it’s going to be a standing policy,” Murray said.
The agenda-setting issue wasn’t the only battle of the night.
Murray asked that council members discuss at the next meeting reappointing a new mayor pro tem. Galloway holds the largely ceremonial title, which allows her to preside over meetings when the mayor is absent.
Murray said Galloway had signed a document submitted to City Hall Tuesday morning declaring an intent to circulate a petition for a November ballot initiative that would ultimately seek to overturn the subsidy. She signed it with her mayor pro tem title.
“Where I have tremendous concern is when that notice is signed by a member of the council using a title that is provided to them by the majority of the council,” Murray said. “I can’t stand silent when it’s used in an initiative against the city.”
Murray said that she wants to see the council move on from the ongoing division between council members that has erupted since the subsidy vote.
Tait shot back that Murray pushing to strip Galloway of the title does little to move the council forward. “So much for moving on,” Tait said.