Mayor Tait: A Man Apart

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Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait at a City Council meeting last year. (Photo credit: The Liberal OC)

In a stark display of how politically isolated Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has become, the City Council majority Tuesday night refused to increase funding for the mayor's policy aide position, leaving him without any staff to help with the daily work that faces his office.

Tait had requested that his office budget be increased by $30,000 so his policy aide, Mishal Montgomery, could be compensated through the end of the fiscal year in June. As it stands, the money to pay her ran out last month.

Tait moved to approve the increase, but none of his colleagues would second it. The mayor was visibly angry and loudly pounded his gavel when Councilman Jordan Brandman interrupted him to say the motion had died.

“I thought I'd seen it all, but apparently not,” Tait said.

Last June, the council majority — then consisting of Kris Murray, Gail Eastman and former Councilman Harry Sidhu — slashed the aide's maximum allowable compensation from $100,000 to $60,000, allocating the revenue saved for weekly computer and job training class at the Ponderosa Elementary School library.

The compensation cut, which brought Tait's aide budget to the same level as the other council members, was the only adjustment council members had made when approving the city's nearly $1.2-billion total budget.

The action was widely seen by City Hall watchers as political retribution for Tait's opposition to decisions the council majority had favored and the mayor's numerous attempts to undo a controversial, $158-million tax subsidy for a hotel developer who helped finance council members' election campaigns.

Murray, nonetheless, had at the time said the cut wasn't personal. “My look was at the budget. Sixty thousand dollars for 30 hours a week is more than ample,” she had said.

Before his motion, Tait presented slides showing the staff and compensation for mayors of other cities. All had more staff members and had higher compensation. For example, in Riverside, a city smaller than Anaheim, the mayor has six staff members, the highest compensated at $106,000 annually, according to Tait's slide.

Montgomery also had a $100,000 budget during the eight years she was aide to former Mayor Curt Pringle, a lobbyist who now represents many business interests in the city and is close to the council majority.

Pringle and Tait, once friends, became political opponents after Tait won the mayor's race in 2010.

This fiscal year, Montgomery has been Tait's only staffer. She has been working 30 hours per week and has so far been paid $39,780 plus benefits, including retirement.

After the decision Tuesday, supporters huddled around a tearful Montgomery outside City Hall.

“It's just shameful. The issue here is disrespect, spitefulness," said Forrest Turpin, an eight-year city resident. “It is unfair to the citizens of this community to impinge on the mayor's ability to represent this city."

Tait acknowledged the stark way in which the vote revealed his political isolation and was particularly upset about his colleagues' silence. “What I didn't expect was the lack of defense of the action of this council,” Tait said. “That was a mean thing to do, and I don't understand why.”

Montgomery, though clearly upset, said she hoped the decision would ultimately give Anaheim residents a clearer picture of how things work at City Hall. “It's so bad,” Montgomery told supporters. “But maybe it needed to happen for people to see how bad it is.”

Other council members would say little when asked about the decision.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring — who received Tait's endorsement during the election but has since been heavily courted by the business lobbyists Tait has angered — said only that she thought the budgeted compensation was adequate.

“The previous council gave him a mandate of $60,000, and I think that was fair,” Kring said.

Tait and others who supported the compensation increase said  that by the nature of the job, the mayor has a larger daily workload than council members, including daily requests from residents and others looking to meet and asking for speaking engagements.

“It affects the whole city,” Tait said. “It makes it very difficult to respond to all the issues that come at you as mayor. I will try my best.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.

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