Voice of OC has been unable to verify the names of consultants improperly hired by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce under a city contract, despite having requested them more than a week ago. The only person who has the list has been unreachable, city spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz said Thursday.

Ruiz said that she couldn’t identify the person but that he works for Sacramento-based Sjoberg Evashenk Consulting, the outside firm that conducted a performance audit of the chamber’s contract.

Ruiz said he is unreachable because of a death in the family and won’t return to work until Monday.

Maryanne Evashenk, a partner with the audit firm, said she hasn’t heard of a city request for a list of chamber consultants under the contract. She did confirm that the project manager for the audit, George Skiles, was out “on vacation” until next week.

But Evashenk also seemed perplexed by Ruiz’s contention that the audit firm is unable to provide the city with a list of the chamber’s subcontractors.

“If the city asks us for information, we’re very responsive,” Evashenk said.

The audit of the chamber’s contract, which was to be Anaheim’s administrator of the state’s enterprise zone tax voucher program for businesses, revealed that the business group hired consultants without seeking contract-required city approval. The audit did not name the chamber’s consultants.

This finding has particular significance because of activists’ contention that the chamber is funneling taxpayer funds to controversial blogger Matt Cunningham. Cunningham outraged many last month when he posted a photo of a defaced teddy bear near a Virgin of Guadalupe candle, clearly mimicking memorial sites to young Latinos killed in police shootings.

The furor over the post culminated with a candlelight vigil last week outside City Hall and the chamber’s downtown headquarters. Activists demanded that the chamber end its consulting contract with the Cunningham, a Republican Party insider with significant ties to the city’s political elites.

In a response attached to the audit, the chamber contends that the hiring of consultants without city approval did not violate the city contract, because the contractors served only in advisory roles and did not directly do work under the contract.

After the controversy erupted, chamber President Todd Ament said that the business group doesn’t pay Cunningham to blog but has refused to explain the nature of Cunningham’s work.

A chamber website had previously called Cunningham’s blog the “Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Blog.” The reference was removed after outrage over the post became a national story.

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

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