Anaheim Councilwoman Criticized for Trip With Disneyland Lobbyist

Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray and Disneyland government relations chief Carrie Nocella.

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Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray and Disneyland government relations chief Carrie Nocella.

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It’s considered conventional wisdom in Anaheim that City Council majority leader Kris Murray is tight with Disneyland. The hundreds of thousands of dollars the megaresort has funneled to PACs that supported her council candidacy are pretty solid evidence of that.

But a trip to Europe she took with Disneyland’s government relations chief Carrie Nocella late last year has City Hall observers questioning whether Murray should maintain a little more distance.

Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown confirmed that a group of friends whose children attended school together – including Murray and Nocella – vacationed in Europe shortly after Murray was reelected to the council last November. Each person paid her own way, and city business wasn’t discussed on the trip, Brown said.

But even with those qualifiers, the trip rankles some city hall watchers, especially in light of the controversial deal with Disneyland the Council approved last month in a 3-2 vote. Under the deal, residents will be precluded from voting to levy an admissions tax on Disneyland for up to 45 years in exchange for Disneyland investing $1.5 billion in its theme park.

“Very poor decision,” said county campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle. “It looks like you’re in bed with all that’s going on between Anaheim and the Disney company. Any honorable City Council person has to keep an arms-length distance so it doesn’t appear that they are biased or being influenced.

“When I was on the county planning commission, I sure as hell wouldn’t have gone on a trip with the developers” who had business before the commission, Grindle said.

Cynthia Ward — president of the residents watchdog group Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility (CATER) and frequent critic of the Murray-led council majority — said the trip points to a relationship that crossed over to a conflict of interest.

“It’s one thing to go out for dinner together with your husbands. It’s another to take vacations together. That’s a very close friendship. I love my friends. I want to vacation with very few of them,” Ward said. “How do you say no to your best friend’s company?”

Nocella didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Murray and Brown disagree with Grindle and Ward. And Brown went so far as to criticize Voice of OC’s decision to publish an article about the “all girls trip” as “ridiculous,” noting that Disneyland didn’t finance the European vacation, which would be a violation of the state’s law prohibiting gifts to public officials.

“There’s really nothing to this, and it’s ridiculous to imply there’s anything more,” Brown said.

Arianna Barrios, CEO of the Orange-based firm Communications Lab, passed along a statement from Murray saying that her considerations on council business are based only on what’s best for Anaheim.

“As an elected official, I independently evaluate all issues that come before the City Council on the sole basis of whether they are in the best interest of Anaheim,” Murray said. “When I travel on personal time, I do so at my own expense and comply with regulations and policies governing public officials.”

To be sure, Murray’s relationship with Nocella is not the only example on the City Council of a friendship that crosses over into city business.

Murray and Councilman Jordan Brandman count former Mayor Curt Pringle, a powerful lobbyist who has worked for most of the town’s business establishment, including Disneyland, as a friend and mentor.

Mayor Tom Tait tapped his friend, the lobbyist John Lewis – who appeared at a council meeting recently on behalf of a client — to be his campaign manager. (Tait voted against his friend’s client.)

Good government expert Tracy Westen acknowledges that friendships between public officials and lobbyists can become so close that it begins to skew the public official’s judgment.

The problem, Westen says, is there is no objective test that allows a clear and bright line to be drawn. But one way  to handle it would be for Murray to have disclosed the trip when Disney business comes before the council.

If Murray felt she was too close to Nocella to make an unbiased decision, then she could recuse herself from the vote, Westen said. Westen recused himself from a commission vote in Los Angeles County because the person who was before the commission happened to be a personal friend, he said.

But that was a personal decision, Westen said. And he disagreed with the notion that public officials should refrain from vacationing with close friends in the political community.

He referenced the famous quote from Jesse M. Unruh, former speaker of the state assembly: “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze… take their money and then vote against them, you’ve got no business being up here.”

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

  • JR

    Anaheim’s most corruput politics at its best. Murray wants us to belive that all dinner checks were split evenly between her and Nocella. These two and Brandman are the axis of evil in Anaheim. Mike Houston is a lap dog. Pringle is still running things behind the scene. Murray is just a puppet. FFPC is asleep at the wheel. What more I need to say.

  • A Richard Olquin

    Kris Murray and Carrie Nocella are many things…but being Evil Incarnate as alleged here by blogsters aint one of them. Would you all be just as pissed off to find out they took their children Whale Watching together out of Dana Point Harbor one day??? Get over it. All I wonder is if they got VIP tickets to Disneyland – Paris for all the kids??? That might be objectionable…

    • RyanCantor

      I’m not suggesting she’s Evil Incarnate.

      I’m suggesting she makes very poor choices. Mostly because she confuses what she can do with what she should do.

      Anaheim’s Mayor Pro Tem SHOULD NOT be going on transatlantic vacations with the head of GP&A for the city’s largest and most influential employer.

      Why? <— If you can't answer that question for yourself, well, I suppose there's really no point in having a discussion. It's obvious.

      There's a substantial difference between advocating, even quite loudly, that an individual is grossly unqualified to lead and labeling someone as evil. I'm sure that some have ventured into the later, but the majority of the criticism flying Ms. Murray's way is a reflection of how she chooses to lead.

      • Cynthia Ward

        OK Ryan, you won’t, but I will. Actual or imputed bad character. Causing harm. What else do you call it when the City is operating with Police at the level of STOCKTON, kids are sucking DIRT into their lungs playing soccer on fields with no grass (when they can get onto fields at all) there is “no money” for a homeless shelter, and she votes time and again to give her friends MILLIONS in money that should go to the General Fund. I despise taxes but recognize they are necessary in order to provide for those services we must fund collectively, due to our inability to fund as individuals. When she leads the parade to give away the money needed to fund those services, we go without, or are forced to de-fund something else. That is “CAUSING HARM,” there is no other definition for it. It is one thing to disagree with someone based on differences in policy issues. But when you see over and over again the wicked, senseless “policy” decisions to benefit their buddies with the excuse “no risk to the General Fund,” and while refusing to even HEAR the people of Anaheim when we ask for ONE MORE MEETING so we can review docs, how is that not evil? KIDS ARE BREATHING IN DIRT IN OUR PARKS! No, not because of a drought (I cannot get over the ignorance of that remark) Murray’s kid and Nocella’s kid don’t breathe dirt, somehow the parks in Anaheim Hills are immune to the wrath of Mother Nature and only the flatlands parks are dealing with lack of water. (Uh wait, the flatlands tap into wells, the hills IMPORT ALL OF THEIR WATER but the hills lawns are green?)

        If mandating that CHILDREN BREATHE IN DIRT because of your decisions is not evil, what is?

        • RyanCantor

          I think you’re giving her too much credit in understanding the consequences of her actions.

          I honestly believe that she thinks everything she does smells like roses. I don’t think the concept of being wrong or the potential consequences of her being wrong ever occupy more than a tenth of a second of her thoughts. Her rants at council meetings have yet to reveal any kind of self critical examination or second guessing of complex issues. She’s right because she’s right and why would anyone ever think that’s she’s wrong?

          I mean really– she thinks she SHOULD be able to go on vacation with Disneyland’s head of GP&A (incidentally, why is Disney tolerating this? Seems like that’s a business liability that they’re unreasonably carrying). That kind of public revelation of thought does not an evil genius make.

          An evil genius would have the foresight to not get caught doing something that ridiculous. They’d send someone else to do it instead.

          Wait a minute . . .

    • OCservant_Leader

      Lets save the Evil Incarnate description for the real Source of OC Demonic Activity — that award goes to our DA T-Rack & his kind. He’s got blood on his hands from the Kelly Thomas murder…whoops I mean on his rubber gloves he slipped on first.

      Back to Kris Murray– she’s just a politician getting caught stuffing her pockets with Disney Bucks and apparently ran out of pockets and now has to take some of it – “In – Kind” i.e. trips to Europe. This is called Payola 101.

      Where are we going next Kris?

    • Vern Pat Nelson

      Rich, don’t you owe Chuchua some money?

  • Paul Lucas

    I think she should have in the least recused herself from that vote on the gate tax. I would ask Shirley Grindle about that shes the expert.

    • Vern Pat Nelson

      Anaheim’s klepto city attorney Michael Houston lets his patrons in the majority (Brandman, Murray, Kring) get away with anything. But he finds the most farfetched “conflicts” to make Mayor Tait recuse himself, and Boy Scout Tait does so. For example, Tait had no vote, or even the ability to comment, on the subject of homeless shelters, because HIS COMPANY SOMETIMES DOES BUSINESS WITH THE COUNTY. We were all like, you don’t have to listen to everything Houston tells you, but Tom is honest to a fault. It’s like fighting with gloves on against a gang with switchblades and grenade launchers.

      • Paul Lucas

        damn I wish the FBI or DOJ would come to town

      • Boat Nectar

        Forget it, Jake. It’s Disneyheim.

  • RyanCantor

    “As an elected official, I independently evaluate all issues that come before the City Council on the sole basis of whether they are in the best interest of Anaheim,” Murray said.

    Someone get that woman a dictionary. She can’t even independently order a drink.

    in·de·pend·ent·ly

    ˌindəˈpendən(t)lē/

    adverb

    1. in a way that is free from outside control or influence.

    “the government must prove its ability to govern independently”

    synonyms:alone, on one’s own, separately, unaccompanied, solo, autonomously;More

    2. without outside help; unaided.

    “disabled people living independently in their own homes”

  • Jason Sumague-Young

    Donald Trump said it best last night at the GOP debate when he openly admitted that he gave politicians money in return for favors. This is exactly what goes on in Anaheim. Disney spends half a million or more to elect Kris Murray and she turns round and votes yes on millions in giveaways. It’s flat out bribery and Disney and Kris Murray know it.

  • Jason Sumague-Young

    Donald Trump said it best last night at the GOP debate when he openly admitted that he gave politicians money in return for favors. This is exactly what goes on in Anaheim. Disney spends half a million or more on Kris Murray and she turns round a votes yes on millions in giveaways. It’s flat out bribery and Disney and Kris Murray know it.

  • Jason Sumague-Young

    Bribery and corruption is par for the course for Disney and it’s puppet city council.

  • Vern Pat Nelson

    Thanks for the balance. “(Tait voted against [Lewis’] client.)” Have you ever in your life seen or heard the sentence “Murray and Brandman voted against [something Disney or a Pringle client wanted?]”

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Good Grief – very obvious conflict and very brazen “in your face” attitude.

  • Smeagel4T

    Any question is moot. Use the same test used by judges on trials. What MUST be avoided is any APPEARANCE of impropriety whether it exists or not. Whether it exists or not IS NOT IMPORTANT because, like the greater judiciary knows, the concern is trust in the system and the inability for the greater public to know whether anything was going on or not. What matters is whether the action undermines trust in the system, and this activity does undermine it whether anything was going on or not.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Kris — REALLY? –you arent even going to try and pretend your not paid off by Disney and – your BFF Carrie?

    File this one under “OC Politicans gone wild”.

  • David Zenger

    “Arianna Barrios, CEO of the Orange-based firm Communications Lab, passed
    along a statement from Murray saying that her considerations on council
    business are based only on what’s best for Anaheim.”

    What’s good for Pringle’s client list IS good for Anaheim. Now say it again. And again. Now you are growing very sleepy…you can hardly keep your eyes open…

    • RyanCantor

      Now that’s the same Arianna Barrios who ALSO took checks from Disney, correct?

      • Jason Sumague-Young

        yes

      • David Zenger

        Probably.

        And she worked for Spitzer’s campaign and the Lo and Behold got public money to promote his megalomaical “victim’s memorial,” as I recall.

        http://voiceofoc.org/2014/07/spitzer-draws-fire-for-unauthorized-contracts-to-campaign-consultant/

        Busy lady.

        • OCservant_Leader

          I wonder how many different DBAs this dynamic duo is using to siphon public dollars at the County ?

          I think these two are worth tracking. Is there a journalism intern who would like to try and decipher the County procurement maze – what’s the threshold now $99,999? For no paper trail? Start at EA run Agency’s.

          Why don’t they just “appoint” her to County Management- “Government Relations” [fill in the blank Agency] would be perfect then she can collect a pension in addition to running campaigns and her political PR work.

      • Vern Pat Nelson

        Arianna Barrios, wife and boss of POSEIDON lobbyist Brian Lochrie, Arianna who recently registered Poseidon’s phony astroturf/greenwashing group OC WISE which pretends to be an independent grassroots group preaching about how badly we need this project and how environmentally harmless it is, but is actually staffed by Poseidon consultants.