Anaheim Mayor Blocks Debates, Prompting Accusation He’s “Undemocratic”

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait. JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait shut down discussion on two items by City Council members Lucille Kring and Kris Murray during a heated meeting, prompting accusations from the councilwomen that Tait was stifling debate.

Tait, backed by three council members, moved Tuesday to table two separate proposals before hearing a staff report or discussion from council members. Procedurally, a motion to table does not allow for any discussion.

Murray, who proposed several amendments to the city’s new anti-lobbying ordinance, called the move “undemocratic.” Her proposed amendments will come back before the council in about 90 days.

Kring protested when the mayor moved to table her item, a request to oppose a statewide “sanctuary state” bill.

She spoke several times without being called on, prompting Tait to gavel her down.

“You don’t like what other people do and you can’t stand when other people bring an item up that you reject,” Kring said.

“It is unbelievable how you don’t follow the rules,” Tait replied.

Council members Denise Barnes, Jose Moreno and James Vanderbilt voted with Tait to table Murray’s item. Barnes, Moreno and Councilman Steve Faessel voted with Tait to table Kring’s proposal.

The drama is the latest flare-up in a long-standing quarrel between Tait, Kring and Murray, who have served together on city councils with starkly different dynamics.

Before the November 2016 election, Tait was often a voice of dissent on a council in which Kring and Murray were part of the voting majority.

At times, Tait’s motions were tabled by his colleagues before any discussion was held.

After the election, the dynamics flipped, with Kring and Murray often on the losing end of votes.

Recently, animus between the three council members has flared when Kring and Murray speak without being called on, prompting Tait to gavel them down. Both councilwomen have accused Tait of using the gavel more frequently with them than others.

A Second “Sunshine” Ordinance

Murray’s proposal includes several amendments to a sunshine ordinance proposed by Moreno, which was passed on July 25 and adopted at Tuesday’s meeting.

Moreno’s ordinance would bar elected officials and employees from lobbying the city for two years after they leave their job; prohibit the city from hiring people from lobbying firms; and requires lobbyists to register with the city and file quarterly reports.

When Murray tried to propose several amendments to Moreno’s ordinance on July 25, she was voted down by fellow council members, prompting her to bring back the amendments as a separate item at Tuesday’s meeting.

Several of the amendments broaden the scope of the previous ordinance, while some narrow the influence of the law.

Murray’s amendments include:

  • Defining a conflict of interest for the council or Planning Commissioners to include relatives that have an ownership interest or are employed by a for-profit company located within 1,000 feet of a property under consideration. Relative is defined as including an official’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, grandparent, in-laws, aunt, uncle or cousin.
  • Changing the definition of a lobbying firm from “any business entity” compensated to influence a legislative body to “any individual, entity or organization.”
  • Requiring lobbying firms to report any campaign contributions made to the mayor and council members.
  • Restricting the “revolving door” ban to council members only. Moreno’s ordinance includes employees in the ban.
  • Extending the two-year revolving door ban for council members to include a ban on lobbying for a term “equal to the total of accumulative years” of their service on the council.
  • Prohibiting the employment of any person paid by an independent expenditure committee or successful city council campaign for two years after they received payments.

Shirley Grindle, a citizen watchdog who helped craft the county’s campaign finance ordinance and a ballot measure creating a county ethics commission, was complimentary about some of Murray’s suggestions but said several others were “overkill” and “a little politically motivated.”

She praised the provision which expands the definition of a lobbying firm, noting it would require groups like nonprofits and labor unions to register, in addition to business interests.

The requirement that lobbying firms report campaign contributions was Grindle’s idea.

Grindle, however, said some of the amendments were too broad, difficult to enforce and potentially unconstitutional, pointing to, for example, the revolving door ban that prohibits city council members from lobbying for a period equal to their years on the city council.

“That’s ridiculous. It should be a standard two years for everybody,” Grindle said.

Murray said her amendments are about strengthening, not competing with Moreno’s ordinance.

“I don’t understand why there’s resistance to make sure it’s comprehensive,” Murray said.

At the July 25 council meeting, Faessal said he felt Moreno’s ordinance unfairly targeted him, Murray and Kring, saying the ordinance’s ban on employing people from lobbying firms might affect the employment of their council aides.

Tait leveled a similar accusation at Murray during the July 25 meeting, saying her conflict of interest provision about relatives was aimed at him. Tait once owned property near Angel Stadium that he transferred to his adult children.

Tait, in tabling Murray’s amendments Tuesday, said the council should allow Moreno’s ordinance to go into effect rather than attempting to make changes to the ordinance on the same night that it is adopted.

“I look forward to a rigorous debate on this in the future,” Tait said.

“Sanctuary State”

Separately, Kring called on her colleagues Tuesday to write a letter voicing opposition to Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which has been called the “sanctuary state” bill.

The bill would prohibit state and local law enforcement, including schools, from using resources to investigate, detain, detect or arrest people for the purpose of immigration enforcement.

Nearly two dozen people spoke against Kring’s proposal at the meeting, with several noting the city’s large population of foreign-born residents, at 37 percent.

While no one spoke in favor of Kring’s proposal at the meeting, she said the voices of people who oppose the sanctuary state bill are often drowned out.

She said she did not intend to be divisive.

“It was done because somebody needs to protect the residents from criminals,” Kring said.

Tait called Kring’s proposal unnecessarily divisive.

“We don’t need to be debating this bill in Sacramento…I believe it causes harm to our effort in building trust in the community,” Tait said.

Cheers erupted from the audience when Kring’s item was tabled.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.