Michael R.W. Houston, a Republican lawyer with ties to Orange County’s business lobby and former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, has been named the city’s interim city attorney, the city announced during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
City officials are hammering out the details of an agreement with Houston and his firm, Newport Beach-based Cummins & White, city spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz said. It isn’t yet clear when he will assume the position.
Houston will replace City Attorney Cristina Talley, who was forced out of her position by the council majority earlier this month. Talley resigned after being told by council members that if she didn’t do so she would face termination, according to an email she sent to city leaders. Officially, she is on administrative leave until April 30.
The ouster of Talley, a Latina, has drawn fire from a group of community activists and leaders of the Orange County Hispanic Bar Association who allege, along with other sources close to City Hall, that the council majority forced her out partly because of her stance that the city is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.
The act requires adequate council representation for certain minorities, including Latinos. Currently the City Council is all white and its members are from the affluent neighborhoods of Anaheim Hills or the Colony District.
Other sources have disputed that contention, saying that Talley was seen as too close to Mayor Tom Tait, who has opposed key decisions by the council majority, such as the granting of a controversial $158-million tax subsidy for a hotel developer.
On Wednesday morning, Talley attended the regular breakfast meeting of the Latino grassroots group Los Amigos of Orange County. She spoke to the group about her family and background but would not answer questions regarding her ouster or future plans.
In addition to questions for Talley, there was quite a bit of buzz about Houston as the choice for her interim replacement. “Isn’t he [Houston] a dear friend of Curt Pringle’s?” asked former Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who was in attendance.
Houston’s ties to Pringle go back decades. He was a staffer with Pringle’s 1996 Assembly speaker campaign, according to a biography on FlashReport, a conservative blog that published some of Houston’s writings.
Additionally, Houston is counsel for the Anaheim Transportation Network, a private transit agency and Pringle client that provides bus service throughout the city’s resort district.
Houston also sits on the board of directors of the Association of California Cities — Orange County, a cities group and public policy think tank with a board and committees that include elected officials, business lobbyists, corporate representatives and Anaheim’s political powerhouse, the Disneyland Resort.
Jose Moreno, president of Los Amigos, questioned why residents weren’t given the opportunity to influence the council’s decision on appointing a powerful public official. “You should still kind of ask people what they want in an interim,” Moreno said.
Houston and council members couldn’t be reached immediately for comment. Tait, who voted for the appointment, said he trusted Houston despite his links to Pringle and others who have become political foes of the mayor.
“I’ve known Michael Houston for a number of years, and he has a strong reputation,” Tait said.