Yet another controversy over charges of racism in Anaheim’s political structure erupted in recent days as former Assemblyman Jose Solorio criticized the all-white City Council for appointing only white people to the city’s charter review committee.
And beyond the race issue are contentions by Mayor Tom Tait — which are backed by a good-government expert — that committee members should be required to file public statements of economic interest, particularly because one of the committee’s appointees, former Mayor Curt Pringle, is an influential lobbyist.
In a Facebook post, Solorio highlighted the lack of diversity on the committee, which could play a significant role in shaping how Anaheim, a city that is more than half Latino, is governed in the future.
Solorio and other Latinos are especially sensitive now, because the City Council last week rejected a plan to put to voters a proposal to switch Anaheim from an at large electoral system to a district-based system that would give Latinos more representation on council. The proposal was a reaction to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union asserting that the city’s current system violates the California Voting Rights Act.
The appointees to the charter advisory committee include: Amanda Edinger, a vocal opponent of automatic citizenship for children of immigrants and illegal immigration; Craig Farrow, a retired police sergeant and advisory committee member of the pro-Disneyland group Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR); Keith Olesen, an outspoken critic of the council districts election system; attorney Tom Dunn; and Pringle.
“Anaheim is a diverse city. Especially given all the discussion about representation, one would think a more diverse set of appointees would be selected by the Councilmembers,” Solorio wrote in his post. “Any thoughts, reactions?”
Solorio’s post did garner reactions from Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, conservative blogger Matt Cunningham and Todd Priest, vice president at Curt Pringle & Associates, the former mayor’s lobbying firm.
In response to Solorio’s comments about the all-white committee, Dunn quoted from slain Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” Dunn quoted.
Solorio shot back, saying King’s words speak to the current realities facing the majority of Anaheim residents: “The situation in Anaheim today is that many communities feel excluded from city governance, and appointments like this further grow the frustration level.”
Later in the conversation, Cunningham, who receives payments from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, also said that race should not be a factor in the committee picks.
“Isn’t it long past time that we move beyond the notion that race/ethnicity is factor on determining whether or not a public institution is representative,” Cunningham wrote.
Solorio responded to Cunningham’s comment by suggesting that the committee might have been more diverse if council members would have been able to confer with each other on their picks, something the state’s open meetings law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, forbids.
“I’m sure if you or I, or any of the Council members could have made the five initial appointments unilaterally, that a more diverse final list would have prevailed,” Solorio wrote.
Solorio noted that two appointments remain and expressed hope that they would better reflect Anaheim’s diverse population. Each council member appointed a resident to the committee, and the remaining two seats are to be appointed by the five council appointees.
Meanwhile, in his statements, Priest indicated a hidden agenda among those asking for more diversity.
“Some in Anaheim continue to look for ways to divide the community [and] seek to take advantage of certain communities in order to advance their own political agendas. … I hope this committee thoughtfully reviews the Charter, as that is their only task,” Priest wrote.
Priest’s comments reflected a view held by many in the Anaheim establishment that the issue of Latino representation is essentially a union-funded attempt to change the election system so unions could weaken the current power structure and have their favored candidates elected.
A city charter stipulates the nuts and bolts of a city’s governing system. Among other things, the charter dictates the form of city government. Anaheim’s is a council-manager system, whereby the city manager runs day-to-day affairs of the city and the seven-member council sets policy. Changes to the city charter must be put to a citywide vote.
Tait, reflecting his concerns regarding Pringle, asked that the council consider at a future meeting implementing a rule that would require each charter review committee appointee to file a Form 700, also known as statements of economic interest. Public officials are required to disclose on the forms their financial interests so that the public can be confident that they aren’t making decisions that financially benefit them.
City Attorney Michael R.W. Houston said that he had already asked outside counsel about the issue and was advised that members of temporary advisory bodies of a “limited scope,” such as the charter review committee, would not be required under state law to file Form 700.
However, under the city’s municipal code, members of all city boards and committees must disclose financial conflicts and recuse themselves when decisions arise that pose conflicts of interest, according to Houston.
Nonetheless, Tait argued that the committee could be influencing sweeping changes to the city’s governing system and the public should know the financial interests of committee members.
“I think we should err on the side of transparency on this,” Tait said. “This is a big thing. I think it would be prudent to know where everybody receives their income so there isn’t a perception of conflict.”
Tracy Westen, a good-government expert and president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, agreed with Tait and said that if he were on the council, he would require committee members to disclose their financial interests.
The reason members of temporary advisory committees probably aren’t required under state law to file Form 700 is the disclosure requirement could discourage residents from volunteering for the committees, Westen said. Another reason is they are only advisory and don’t make final decisions, he said.
Westen said the committee could recommend long-term changes to the city’s governing system that could slant the charter to benefit private interests such as changing zoning regulations, so the committee members should be required to file Form 700.
“It might be that they want a weak mayor because they have more influence over City Council members who are more favorable to commercial interests,” Westen said. “You want to make sure those recommendations are not advised by private interests.”
Councilman Jordan Brandman, known to be close to Pringle, appointed the former mayor to the seven-member committee.
Although out of office for years, Pringle remains an influential behind-the-scenes player at City Hall and maintains close relationships with the council majority. Councilwoman Kris Murray went so far as to describe him and others who wield power in Anaheim as “masters of the universe.”
Pringle’s lobbying firm, Curt Pringle & Associates, helped push through the controversial $158-million room tax subsidy for hotel developer Bill O’Connell. His firm also helped secure testing permits for Los Angeles County-based Signal Hill Petroleum in several Orange County cities, including Anaheim.
Pringle did not return a phone call seeking comment.