Irvine City Councilman Mike Carroll is under criticism for allegations he authorized over $70,000 in city money on city mailers over the past year that improperly benefited his re-election campaign according to a new complaint filed with the State Fair Political Practices Commission.
In a complaint filed by Councilwoman Melissa Fox, a Democrat also running for state assembly, reports by city staff laid out how Carroll – running as a Republican – authorized spending $40,000 in the last fiscal year on the city mailers, and an additional $32,000 in just the last two months.
Carroll called the complaint a “political hatchet job,” in a statement to Voice of OC, and said the money for the letters came from the allocation every council member receives for their staff, not from the council’s mail fund.
“Each Councilmember has resources and applies them differently. After COVID-19, it was impossible for my staff to meet with our 287,000 residents face-to-face,” Carroll wrote. “If communicating with residents in need at this unprecedented time is a problem for Councilmember Fox, that is very disappointing.”
The city’s Republican Mayor Christina Shea is also taking issue with Carrol’s use of the city council budget to send out city mailers benefiting his campaign.
“How was one member of our council allowed to use up the Council annual mail budget?” Shea asked in an email sent to city staff and shared with Voice of OC.
Voice of OC reached out to city staff to clarify which fund the money came from and how city council office spending budgets function, but received no response as of Tuesday evening.
To read the complaint and the attached evidence, click here.
Nearly all the letters were advertisements for virtual town halls hosted by the city to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and city services, and routinely featured multiple members of the city council and representatives of community institutions such as UC Irvine and Hoag Hospital.
But in the letters authorized by Carroll, no mention was made of other council members, with a large title that read “Please Join Mike Carroll, Vice Mayor, City of Irvine,” followed by a list of the discussion topics. None of the letters submitted in the complaint mentioned his campaign.
Fox filed the complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the Orange County District Attorney, and the state Attorney General’s office. Fox declined to comment for this article, saying she wanted the facts in her letter to speak for themselves.
According to a city staff report in the complaint, without Carroll’s spending over the past year, the council’s total spending on mailers to residents comes to $220.
According to the complaint, Carroll also did not go through city management to send the letters, but directly contacted mailroom staff with his instructions.
November will be Carroll’s first run for office since he was appointed to the council in 2019 after then-Mayor Don Wagner won a special election for the third district county supervisor seat.
Orange County supervisors have also come under fire in recent years for using county mailers to help their campaigns, even triggering changes in state law in recent years that limits the timing for such use of official mailers.
In her email to city staff, Mayor Christina Shea issued a withering criticism of Carroll’s conduct, instructing any further mail requests by the councilman be denied.
Shea also requested a review of the entire council’s expenses for a public presentation as soon as possible, and said she thought the council should host a public hearing to discuss where the money for the mailers would come out of the city budget.
“Considering we are looking at $18 million deficit at the close of June 30, 2020 and several years to come, running up a mail deficit is troubling,” Shea wrote.
The city council’s next meeting is currently set for Sept. 8, but it remains unclear if the council will discuss the issue then or wait until the finance department has completed a review.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @NBiesiada.