Sean H. Mill, a longtime player in Santa Ana politics, abruptly resigned from the city Planning Commission last week, after he was caught living 24 miles outside city limits.
It all came to a head last Tuesday evening, when Mill’s wife discovered a private investigator outside her home in Riverside. She confronted the investigator, who reportedly revealed that he was looking into Mill’s residency and didn’t believe that Mill lived in Santa Ana.
Mill resigned from the commission the next morning, saying he no longer lived in the city.
“I will be stepping down from the Planning Commission effective immediately. I was planning to do so prior to the meeting Monday night but have decided to do so now,” Mill wrote in his 7:55 a.m. email to the city clerk.
“While I will continue to have some residence in Santa Ana, in order to be more actively involved in my 16-year-old [step-daughter’s] activities I have relocated my primary place of residence outside the city limits.”
Mill married a Riverside woman over a year ago, though he says his primary residence was in Santa Ana until about 2-1/2 weeks before he resigned.
In an interview, Mill said he promised his wife that he would start living “full time” with her around the time of their one-year anniversary, June 20. Mill said that’s what he ended up doing, and that he was planning on stepping down around the time of the following commission meeting, on July 11.
“I’m kind of bummed that I won’t get to serve the people of Santa Ana anymore and it’s something I really loved doing,” Mill said. “And given my long history in the city, it’s sad to have to step down, but sometimes you have to do what’s best for your family and that’s what I chose to do in this case.”
But those who hired the investigator – Santa Ana resident Thomas Gordon and Liberal OC blog publisher Dan Chmielewski – are suspicious.
“It just doesn’t make sense to get married to someone who lives a few miles away and to live in Santa Ana that whole time after” getting married, Chmielewski said. “One of the advantages of being married is going home to the person you love every night.”
Chmielewski said the investigator looked into Mill’s residency for several weeks in May – well in advance of when Mill said he moved to Riverside – and concluded that Mill likely doesn’t live at the Santa Ana home where he’s been registered to vote.
“This is fraud,” said Gordon, questioning Mill’s collection of city compensation for serving on the planning commission.
“He knew he didn’t live in the city, he knew he wasn’t eligible to serve on the Planning Commission.”
Mill said Gordon and Chmielewski are wrong.
Allegations that he had been living outside Santa Ana before approximately June 20 are “just not true,” Mill said. “I mean, is there [occasions] where I [spent] time in Riverside? I mean, I split time….[but] every piece of mail that I get is in Santa Ana. Everything I have is in Santa Ana. All of my money gets sent to Santa Ana,” he said.
The timing of Mill’s move to Riverside is important, Chmielewski says, because the city could face thousands of dollars in litigation if Mill took deciding votes as a commissioner while not a city resident.
Chmielewski and Gordon met with City Manager David Cavazos and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho last Thursday to present the findings of their investigation.
But the city appears to have accepted Mill’s representation that he only moved to Riverside very recently.
Chmielewski, meanwhile, said he’s given a copy of his investigator’s report to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office and has reached out Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.
Councilman Sal Tinajero, who appointed Mill to the commission, said he appreciates Mill’s service and that he leaves big shoes to fill.
“I believe it’s a loss to our Planning Commission because he’s been around for such a long time and has this institutional memory that he brings along with him,” Tinajero said.
There’s been a “a history of political disaccord” between Mill and his accusers, Tinajero added, making it important for there to be documentation backing up claims of wrongdoing.
“Sean Mill works here in Santa Ana, so I find it hard to believe that he was making the long trek to and from [Riverside],” Tinajero said.
Mill’s involvement in Santa Ana politics dates back to at least 1989, when he served as chairman of the city’s parks and recreation board and wrote a now-controversial opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about a proposed Orange County gay pride festival.
“Homosexuals have the right to do as they wish in their bathhouses and bedrooms,” Mill wrote. “Now, they want to desensitize the moral standards of our community. This will be damaging to our children, families and country.”
In 1990, while serving on the city Recreation and Community Advisory Board, he helped craft a plan to make the city’s park rangers the first in Orange County to be armed. He ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 1992, and has served on a variety of city commissions in the years since.
Mill said his greatest accomplishment on the Planning Commission was helping make affordable housing a priority for the city.
Prior to his appointment to the Planning Commission in 2007, developers had few incentives to provide affordable housing, Mill said. Now, when housing projects are being approved, they have to either provide affordable housing or pay a fee, a major change, he said.
Mill’s term on the commission was until December 2018. His replacement for the rest of the term is expected to be appointed by council members in the coming weeks.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. He can be reached at [email protected].