After a closed-door meeting, the Irvine City Council majority Tuesday night found that Mayor Sukhee Kang did not illegally leak details of a confidential discussion when he called a developer for clarification of a negotiation point.
Meanwhile, the council's two Republicans continued to call for an independent investigation of the incident.
The dispute stems from an Aug. 16 letter sent by FivePoint Communities CEO Emile Haddad that referred to Kang's phone call and answered his question about a potential land transfer to the city. Councilmen Steven Choi and Jeffrey Lalloway say Haddad's letter raises questions as to whether Kang revealed to Haddad details of a closed-session discussion.
Under the state’s open meeting law known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, it is illegal for a council member to reveal closed session talks to outside parties. But as with most alleged Brown Act violations, the accusation is difficult to prove without because the alleged leaker or the person receiving the information acknowledging that the leak occurred.
Nevertheless, Lalloway and Choi said only an independent investigation will get to the bottom of the incident, which they argue could have weakened the city’s negotiating position.
“This is a very serious breach of confidential information at a very sensitive time,” Lalloway said.
At stake is a deal that would allow FivePoint to build 10,700 housing units around the park — about double the 4,894 units currently approved — in exchange for funding major park amenities, such as a more than $100-million sports park, a wildlife corridor, hundreds of acres of trails and fields and even a man-made lake.
The council majority addressed the issue in closed session before Tuesday's public meeting began. In a 3-0 vote, with Lalloway and Choi absent, the majority found that Kang did not leak details of the Aug. 14 confidential meeting, that other council members did not object to Kang's intention to seek the clarification and that Haddad’s letter disclosed no confidential information.
Kang said he was “deeply offended” that Choi and Lalloway would accuse him of the breach of trust, calling the accusation a “cheap, election-year stunt.” Choi’s told The Orange County Register that when he is mayor there will be no confidential leaks. Kang said the statement is proof that Choi’s intentions are purely political.
Choi is challenging Councilman Larry Agran in November for the mayor’s seat, which Kang is vacating because he is running for the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This is a hit-and-run politics at its worst,” Kang said. “My honesty and integrity has never been attacked before … and I am angry.”
Agran questioned a memo purportedly from Choi that asserts in absolute terms that there was a leak. Agran pressed Choi to announce the leak and also asked him whether he had initialed the memo, implying that Choi was not the true author.
Choi and Lalloway said Agran was playing semantics in a bid to deflect the issue at hand and said they wanted the investigation to root out the truth. However, Choi acknowledged that he gave Lalloway authorization to put Choi’s initials on the memo.
“You know how many letters I do a day? Do you know how many memos I do a day? I may have done it, but I don't remember,” Lalloway said. “When you don't have any arguments, you attack the messenger, which is what he did.”
Lalloway said that the finding that council members didn’t object to Kang contacting Haddad for clarification came from a “parallel universe.” And he argued that any call for an investigation would be seen as political.
“I was not in favor of any sort of authorization at all. And there was no vote taken, except for tonight, which was a rewriting of history,” Lalloway said.