The Anaheim City Council majority Tuesday night rejected Mayor Tom Tait’s request to reverse a 2012 decision that cut his aide’s compensation by 40 percent and was widely seen as political payback for the mayor’s stances on tax subsidies.
That rejection – and the bitter debate that ensued between Tait and the three members of the council majority – are clear evidence that relations between the mayor and some of his colleagues remain as icy as ever.
Councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring, and Councilman Jordan Brandman voted against Tait’s request, while his council ally, James Vanderbilt, voted for it.
In January 2012, Tait angered the previous council majority by opposing a $158 million room tax subsidy for hotel developer Bill O’Connell, who proposed building two four-star hotels. Tait led a chorus of critics who said the subsidy was a massive giveaway of public funds to a politically connected hotelier.
In June of that year, Murray, who has been the de-facto leader of the council majority, requested a last-minute cut to the budget for Tait's aide from $100,000 to $60,000. It was, as Tait pointed out, Murray's only proposed change to the city's $1.4 billion 2012-13 fiscal year budget.
At the time, Murray denied the cut was a political attack and said it was intended to level the playing field between the mayor and council members, who receive $60,000 for their aides. She pointed to a city charter clause that calls for equal powers among council members.
At Murray’s suggestion, the council had moved the funding to a weekly computer and job training class at the Ponderosa Elementary School library.
The historical argument for the mayor having a bigger aide budget is that he or she has far more responsibilities both inside and outside City Hall than a typical council member.
On Tuesday, Tait said unless the compensation for his aide, Mishal Montgomery, is restored to its previous level, funding would run dry and he'd likely be without an aide for the next few months.
But Murray once again defended the cut, saying that Montgomery should give up her pension so she can keep collecting a paycheck. Murray estimated that when Montgomery retires, she’ll be collecting a $16,000 annual pension.
Murray also noted that Montgomery is working part-time, and contended that $100,000 was too big a budget for a part-time employee.
“I just believe that is an extraordinary amount to pay someone for part-time work, under any circumstance,” Murray said.
Murray pointed out that firefighters and police officers start out at the $60,000 range, although she omitted the cost of their benefits.
“[A firefighter] is willing to walk into a burning building and put his life on the line,” Murray said. “We’re talking about speeches and scheduling.”
Tait said that, under his current aide budget, Montgomery earns $45,000 annually. He requested her compensation be restored to $60,000 annually plus benefits. Asking Montgomery to choose between a paycheck and her pension was “cruel” Tait said, because as a public employee she isn’t eligible for social security benefits.
Tait and Vanderbilt further countered Murray's argument with assertions that the mayor carries a much heavier burden than other council members.
In Anahem, the mayor is the official spokesperson for the city, and residents and businesses seek an audience with the mayor more than other council members because a mayor is typically viewed as the city’s highest representative. Additionally, there are several city events, such as the State of the City, that mainly feature the mayor.
“There is a lot more work, and we all know it,” Tait said.
Tait also argued that Montgomery -- who holds a masters degree in public policy from Claremont University and over 20 years of municipal experience including 10 years in Anaheim -- is highly qualified for her position, not someone at the beginning of her career.
Other council members also claimed their aides were highly qualified.
Brandman said his aide, an attorney, opted out of a pension and instead chose a deferred compensation plan so the aide could earn a bigger paycheck. He suggested that Montgomery consider that as an option.
When it became clear that the council majority wasn’t going to restore the budget for Tait’s aide, the mayor was visibly upset. At one point, his voice cracked.
“Yeah, I’m upset with this, because when it was done it was done in retaliation against me, against her,” Tait said. “We’re talking about a human being here.”
At the end of the discussion, an elderly resident criticized the council decision to maintain the compensation cut targeting the mayor’s aide as “dirty business.”
“And I used to like them,” the resident said of the council majority as he walked out of the chambers. “I don’t like them anymore.”