Irvine Stalls Investigations Into Councilman Carroll Mailer Spending Despite Clear Violations of City Policies

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Mike Carroll at the Irvine City council meeting on Dec. 10, 2019.

An investigation into $70,000 in Irvine tax dollars spent on city mailers by City Councilman Mike Carroll appears to be stalling at the local level despite clear evidence he violated at least one city policy. 

City Councilwoman Melissa Fox, a Democrat running for state assembly, filed a complaint against Carroll, a Republican up for reelection to council this year, after learning he tried to divert funds from his staff budget to pay for a series of mailers sent to voters advertising virtual town halls. 

The mailers did not reference the fact he was up for election, but prominently featured his name and were not sent out city-wide, but to an address list provided by Carroll. Carroll and the city have not responded to requests from Voice of OC clarifying where the list came from. 

The Fair Political Practices Commission, California’s lead campaign finance watchdog, confirmed it will not investigate the complaint in an email to Voice of OC, with no stated reason on why they chose not to pursue the issue. 

Orange County District Attorney’s office spokesperson Kimberly Edds said it was policy to not confirm or deny whether any investigation was ongoing. 

The Irvine City Council has largely remained silent on whether they plan to investigate a month after the complaint was filed. Council members Farrah Khan and Anthony Kuo have not returned multiple requests for comment. 

Carroll also did not return multiple requests for comment, but called the complaint a “political hatchet job,” taking aim at Fox’s use of her staff allocation to pay for four aides.

Fox said she would not pursue the matter any further after the FPPC denied her complaint. 

“I’m not pursuing anything. It’s not my job to investigate other councilmembers,” Fox said on a phone call with Voice of OC. “Obviously I thought there was something that was wrong but it’s not my job to say whether that is correct or not.”

Mayor Christina Shea, a Republican, is the only member of the council who has spoken out against Carroll’s actions, calling for an investigation in an email to city staff obtained by Voice of OC. 

“I would like to know how many other members of our Council are making it a practice to send out unsolicited mail…and at what expense to our budget,” Shea said. “I believe we may need to have a public hearing.” 

Shea also confirmed in a text to Voice of OC that she planned to put the issue on the agenda some time in October: in Irvine, the mayor is the only member of the council who can place an item on the agenda without support from another council member. 

Despite a lack of any official follow-up, a Voice of OC review found that Caroll violated at least one city policy with his spending. 

Carroll moved funding from his council aide budget to pay for the mailers. But according to the city policy on how that budget works, he did not have the authority to do that. 

“Approved funds for the Council Executive Assistant Program shall be used only for Council Executive Assistant salaries and benefits,” the city policy reads. “The transfer and/or expenditure of Council Executive Assistant funds for other city programs/projects required City Council approval.” 

City staff have not yet released copies of the council executive aid budgets despite multiple requests. 

Shea also asked for city staff to follow up on how Carroll sent the mailers to staff following reports that he went directly to mailroom staff instead of through the city manager’s office, a violation of the city’s charter.  

Carroll’s mailers have never been discussed publicly by the council, even at the meeting following Fox’s complaint. The main topics discussed that night were city manager John Russo’s retirement and a resolution opposing any manipulation of the US Post Office ahead of the November election. 

Voice of OC filed a public records request for any city communications discussing the mailers and additional information about what city staff had learned of the expenditures on Tuesday afternoon, and are waiting on a response from the city.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @NBiesiada.