PBS SoCal’s David Nazar kicked off Thursday’s broadcast of Inside OC with this simple question:

Are Santa Ana city leaders corrupt?

The interview was a follow-up to Nazar’s January story about a coalition of Latino activists calling for a grand jury investigation. Nazar’s first interview request was shot down by the city, but since then some council members have agreed to speak.

Mayor Miguel Pulido, Councilman Vincent Sarmiento and Councilwoman Michele Martinez answered questions on issues that included the mayor’s myriad business relationships and whether they constitute an ongoing conflict of interest, whether the mayor should have a term limit, and former City Attorney Joe Fletcher’s $333,779 in severance and unused time off.

Sarmiento denied any improprieties by officials, but acknowledged that the city has a communication problem, saying that “people perceive silence as an admission of guilt.”

Sarmiento also said that he did not receive notice of an interview request when Nazar had contacted city officials previously on the story, a complaint first made by Councilman Sal Tinajeo and directed at Executive Director of Public Affairs Jill Arthur.

To address the city’s lack of response to the media, Sarmiento said the city is “in the process of trying to retain the services of a communications director.”

One of the problems, Sarmiento said, is that the world of new media includes websites and blogs that he said aren’t credible news sources. “You can claim anything on a blog, you can claim anything on an internet site, but is there real reliability there? Is there real legitimacy there?” Sarmiento said.

Nazar questioned Pulido on his relationships with people like developer Mike Harrah, who is trying to build a 37-story tower known as One Broadway Plaza. Nazar also asked if Pulido should be recusing himself on voting on certain issues.

Pulido defended his many relationships, saying they’re necessary to be an effective public official.

“Yes you need to be close to people, investors, developers, labor unions, neighborhood association members, school board members, everybody that makes up this community,” Pulido said.

Martinez also defended the mayor’s relationships and said that, given the current economic situation, it’s helpful to the city to have a mayor who has friends in many places.

“We need a mayor like Miguel to be there, that has the relationships… because what I learned David — in politics, it’s about relationships,” Martinez said.

Regarding Fletcher’s payout, Nazar asked for clarification on the circumstances of Fletcher’s departure, which have been murky.

“Did he leave? Did he resign? Because that makes a big difference in the enormous — some say obscene– severance that he received anywhere, from 190 to 300 grand,” Nazar asked.

Sarmiento cleared up some of the fog.

“It wasn’t because he was retiring,” Sarmiento said. “The attorney-client relationship with the city attorney at the time just wasn’t working well for both parties.” He added that the $142,000 in severance was paid to Fletcher to “accelerate” his departure.


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