The Anaheim City Council Tuesday night slashed the maximum allowable compensation for Mayor Tom Tait's aide from $100,000 to $60,000, the latest in a series of moves that Tait and some City Hall watchers say are retaliation against the mayor over his position on hotel tax subsidies.
The money that was taken from the aide's budget — $40,000 — will instead go to a weekly computer and job training class at the Ponderosa Elementary School library.
Councilwoman Kris Murray suggested the transfer after the council approved a controversial $44-million tax break for the developer of a planned four-star hotel next to Disneyland's California Adventure. The 3-2 vote on the subsidy reflected an ongoing council split, with Tait and Councilwoman Lorri Galloway lining up against Murray, Councilman Harry Sidhu and Councilwoman Gail Eastman.
The vote to slash the allowable compensation for the mayor's aide broke along the same 3-2 lines. A subsequent vote to reallocate the $40,000 to the computer class program was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Tait the lone dissenter.
“I am very disturbed by the personal attacks directed at both former Mayor Pro Tem Lorri Galloway and myself for simply disagreeing with the three council members' subsidy vote,” Tait said. “I believe the public is frankly sick and tired of this sort of mean-spirited politics. Ultimately they [the council majority] will have to explain their actions to the voters.”
The council split first erupted when council members approved another hotel tax subsidy in January, awarding up to $158 million in room tax rebates to the developers of two four-star hotels near the city's GardenWalk center.
At a meeting in April, Murray had pushed for but ultimately retreated from stripping Tait of the mayoral power to place items on council agendas without the consent of his colleagues. Murray had insisted that the move wasn't retaliatory and that the city charter calls for a “level playing field” regarding the governing powers of council members.
Murray in that same month successfully pushed to strip Galloway of her then mayor pro tem title, a largely ceremonial role that allows the holder to preside over council meetings in the mayor's absence. Murray had argued that Galloway abused the title when she signed her name to a petition to place an initiative on the November ballot that would require a citywide vote for future hotel room tax subsidies.
The council voted 3-2 along its usual fault line to give the mayor pro tem title to Sidhu, who is currently the target of a district attorney's inquiry into whether he received thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions from organizations connected to GardenWalk hotels developer Bill O'Connell.
As with the previous moves, Murray denied any ulterior motive in proposing the cut to Tait's budget. She again cited the city charter's equal governing powers clause, saying that a $60,000 cap for the mayor's aide brings the compensation into line with other council member aides.
“It may be perceived as personal. It wasn't,” Murray said. “My look was at the budget. Sixty thousand dollars for 30 hours a week is more than ample.”
Galloway, who voted against the cut, doesn't see it that way. The mayor, who acts as the city's representative, gives the annual state of the city address, issues press statements and lobbies in Washington, among other duties, Galloway said.
“To assume that the mayor's assistant is at the same level as the rest of the council [assistants] is just wrong,” Galloway said.
Murray also asked that city staff give flexibility to hire more than one aide, as long as the cost remains under the cap. Council members sit on various boards involving issues ranging from public water projects to transportation, and it would be helpful to hire assistants knowledgeable about such issues, she said.