Anaheim City Council Sacks City Manager

Chris Zapata

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Anaheim’s City Council sacked City Manager Chris Zapata on Tuesday night with barely any comment from the majority that voted to end Zapata’s tenure.

The vote comes in the wake of Zapata publicly raising concerns last month over a $6.5 million bailout for Visit Anaheim, the advertising arm of the Disneyland-area resort industry. 

Mayor Harry Sidhu scheduled the item for the closed session portion of the City Council’s Tuesday meeting. 

“In City Council closed session the city council by a vote of 5-2, Councilmembers (Denise) Barnes and (Jose) Moreno dissenting, accepted the immediate resignation of the city manager,” City Attorney Rob Fabela said late Tuesday night. 

Moreno tried to get Sidhu to publicly say why he wanted to sack Zapata. 

“Might you be willing to share with the public why you agendized to remove the city manager, given that he’s running this crisis so well?” Moreno asked during the virus update portion of the meeting. 

Sidhu didn’t answer. 

“Well, are you finished with your comments? This is just the comments on COVID 19,” Sidhu said. “Go ahead and finish your comments, Councilmember Moreno.” 

Moreno again pressed Sidhu. 

“Why did you agendize for us to remove the city manager during this crisis?” 

Sidhu responded, “It is not appropriate, it is a closed session [item]. I cannot discuss.”

After the late-night closed session, Sidhu said the “majority of the City Council wishes to move in a different direction.”

“There is never a good time to change the city manager,” Sidhu said. 

Deputy City Manager Greg Garcia is now the interim city manager. 

Zapata’s resignation comes after he raised concerns about a $6.5 million city contract with Visit Anaheim, the advertising bureau for the Disneyland-resort area, including the Convention Center. 

Visit Anaheim is funded through the resort hotels’ self-imposed two-percent hotel tax. 

Zapata told the Council that the city should start at a lower amount and put in a strict performance review of the contract. 

His concerns were ignored by Councilmembers. 

Councilmembers voted 5-2 March 27 at a special meeting called by Sidhu for his $15 million economic relief package, which included the $6.5 million contract for Visit Anaheim. Barnes and Moreno dissented. The payment is slated to be broken up in three equal installments.  

Zapata sent Councilmembers a memo April 17 recommending a 10 percent pay cut to his roughly $300,000 salary and suggesting Visit Anaheim executives take a similar pay cut.

Yet, Visit Anaheim executives already took a pay cut by then and made layoffs, according to a Friday email from city spokesman Mike Lyster. 

“I’m not sure if the city manger knew about those at the time he sent this email,” Garcia said on Tuesday night, responding to Moreno’s questions. 

Visit Anaheim Vice President of Operations, Christina Dawson, sent a letter April 5 to the city and the state Economic Development Department that the firm would be laying off and furloughing 34 employees. 

The letter is part of a 1988 federal bill that stipulates employers that have over 100 workers have to file the layoff notice to state employment departments and the cities that are home to the business. 

Visit Anaheim had 71 employees, according to Lyster’s Friday email. 

Some of the employees getting furloughed and laid off include the marketing director, sales manager, tourism development manager, sports marketing manager, destination services managers and the vice president of sales, according to the notice. 

On a Tuesday news release posted on Visit Anaheim’s website, officials announced they’ve been able to land eight Convention Center bookings and reschedule two conventions. 

“Combined, these 10 shows represent more than $475 million in local economic impact and will generate an estimated  $9.2 million in tourism occupancy tax (TOT) revenue for the city,” reads the post.  

The news release also notes employee cuts and pay reductions. 

“Notably, these successes were achieved as Visit Anaheim experienced a nearly 60% reduction in staff in March, with the remaining economic recovery team taking 25% and 50% pay cuts among employees and senior leadership,” reads the post. 

Moreno questioned Visit Anaheim’s news release. 

“Well the Mayor, Harry, asserted this evening, and pointed to data that because of those resources … that today, April [21], we have now seen a recovery of almost $500 million in projected economic impact … is that a fair assessment to make?” Moreno asked. 

 Garcia said the money helped Visit Anaheim keep running. 

“Because of assistance from the city they’ve been able to keep their doors open and keep working,” Garcia said. 

At the end of the meeting, Moreno urged residents to question his council colleagues on their vote. 

“Ask them to explain to you why they chose to vote to remove a city manager who had the confidence of everyone in our city.”  

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio