It was another year of political drama in the city of Anaheim, after an election upset in November 2016 tipped political power in Mayor Tom Tait’s favor.
The new council inaugurated its first meeting in Dec. 2016 by rolling back a number of major actions by the previous city council: canceling a controversial tax subsidy program for luxury hotel developers, ending a sponsorship contract with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, voting to oppose a streetcar in Anaheim and firing the interim city attorney.
It also was the council’s first year with seven instead of five members and a transition from at-large to by-district elections. With more voices on the council, and plenty of conflict, meetings often ambled on until midnight (or later).
Tensions also forced the departure of some top level staff, with the compelled resignation of former City Manager Paul Emery and the ousting of police chief Raul Quezada. The city enters 2018 without a permanent city manager, city attorney or police chief.
Assistant City Manger Kristine Ridge, a longtime city executive, also left the city at the end of 2017 to become city manager for Laguna Niguel.
Below are some of the stories Voice of OC covered in 2017.
Among the new council’s first moves in 2017 was to make Tait’s part-time policy aide a full-time position. Tait defended the action as restoring funding for a position that was cut in 2012 as an act of political retaliation for his votes against subsidies for luxury hotels.
The council ultimately did more than just restore funding for the position. It made the position, a senior policy advisor to the mayor, part of the city’s full-time salary schedule, boosting the total potential compensation to $160,000, including salary, sick and vacation pay and pension.
Tait said his aide wouldn’t reach that $160,000 threshold because she refuses health care benefits. Her hourly pay rate remains the same, and her salary is $98,569 per year.
In a split 4-3 vote in February, the council voted to dismiss all of its previous commissioners and appoint or reappoint members to expanded boards that correspond with the seven city council district seats. Mayor Tom Tait argued it would provide for more equal representation on boards, under the city’s new district-based electoral system.
Councilmembers Steve Faessel, Kris Murray and Lucille Kring voted against the plan, saying it would punish long-time commissioners and erase institutional memory.
Anaheim elected officials and workers will be barred from lobbying the city for two years after they leave their jobs under a new “sunshine ordinance,” the strictest restriction on government lobbying in Orange County.
The new ordinance, proposed by Councilman Jose Moreno, also prohibits the city from hiring people from lobbying firms, and requires paid lobbyists to register with the city and file quarterly reports.
It also would require city council members and executive level staff to retain all email communications for 90 days, rather than the current 37 days, and calls for signs to be posted at the site of any large-scale development explaining the project.
Emery was forced to resign in a 4-3 vote of the city council, with councilmembers Murray, Kring and Stephen Faessel voting no.
The council voted unanimously to appoint City Clerk Linda Andal as Interim City Manager.
The move came after a council vote earlier in the year to cut Emery’s contract signing authority in half, a move which reduced Emery’s power to approve expenditures on his own.
Tait said he requested Emery’s resignation because he wanted to move the council away from one focused on subsidies for the tourism industry “to a new direction toward the neighborhoods.”
Police Chief Raul Quezada resigned under pressure in October, after calls for his resignation from rank-and-file and management police unions.
Quezada, who became acting police chief in May 2013 before being named to the permanent position that December, became the city’s first Latino chief following civil unrest sparked by two police-involved shootings in 2012.
He resigned to settle a claim against the city in which he claimed “intolerable working conditions,” due in part to a complaint filed against him by a police captain. Quezada received a $750,000 settlement.
City council members voted to move forward with a new police review board after more than a year of pressure from activists.
The board would have responsibilities like reviewing and auditing police policies and providing feedback to the city manager; receiving “real-time notification” and briefings of officer-involved shootings and other major incidents; participating in the hiring and promotional process for officers and the ability to review complaints.
The vote came after a report by the ACLU declared Anaheim the ninth worse city in the nation for death at the hands of police, a rank which the city has disputed.
Acting Police Chief Julian Harvey has said the report has several inaccuracies – including erroneously naming an officer, Daron Wyatt, as responsible for the death of a civilian, Brian Charles Smith, when Wyatt did not fire his gun at Smith.
Council member Kris Murray criticized the ACLU report as pushing a “predetermined narrative” to garner sensational headlines, and called on the ACLU to issue corrections and a public apology to the city, police department, and individual officers mentioned by name in the report.
The ACLU admitted some errors in the report in a letter to the city, but noted they don’t change the overall observations and recommendations of the report.
The city has also challenged statements in the report that attribute the death of a man to officer Ben Starke, pointing to a coroner’s report that said the man died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
But the ACLU said it relied on data from the California Attorney General’s office, in which Anderson’s death was reported as “justified homicide” rather than a suicide.
At its last meeting of the year, Anaheim council members voted 6-0 (with Moreno abstaining) to send a letter asking the ACLU to correct its report.
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