A set of leaked and vulgar text messages by Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman — disparaging an ex-rival council member, Denise Barnes — has led to an apology by the Democratic official, and now a push for a city investigation by a council colleague.
“I will be submitting to Human Resources (a department at City Hall) a request for investigating this transgression of our values,” said one of Brandman’s foes on the dais, fellow Democrat Jose Moreno, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Moreno alleged publicly at the meeting that, per conversations he’s claimed to have with city staff, the issue with Brandman goes further: “I also understand from staff this is bigger than just that one text.”
Brandman made a public disclosure that he took a leave of absence last December — at Mayor Harry Sidhu’s request — to get unspecified “help,” months after being part of a city council majority that approved a controversial sale of Angels stadium property.
The controversy also has sparked a public recall effort, led by Vern Nelson of the local civic affairs forum, Orange Juice Blog. The recall effort has already secured a high-profile name helping with organization and precinct walking, Barnes herself.
To make any election happen, though, the recall petition will need at least 5,323 signatures from Brandman’s District 2, 20% of its registered voters, according to recall election guidelines from the OC Registrar of Voters.
Brandman’s behavior has Barnes and Moreno in public and in interviews describing him as “unstable.”
When Moreno questioned Brandman over his behavior publicly on Tuesday, Brandman said he’s since received the help he needs and, responding to Moreno’s push for an HR probe, added he has “nothing to hide.”
Brandman didn’t respond to requests for comment later in the week for this story.
It all comes after a series of private text messages between Brandman and a local activist were published online by Nelson through the Orange Juice Blog earlier this year.
In the texts, Brandman describes Barnes — who often found herself at stark odds with Brandman and the rest of the council majority on a number of key city issues — as an “unf******believably selfish c***” and adding:
“As my mother would say, ‘im gonna rip her f****** t*** off.”
In both interviews and from the public dais Tuesday, Moreno said city staff are “very concerned about … their level of feeling safe on the seventh floor in our building, given your comments.”
In a later interview, Moreno said he’s still seeking clarification with HR about what type of probe the department could conduct and what the cost to the city would be.
“As a personnel matter we are limited in what we can say out of consideration for all involved,” said city spokesperson Mike Lyster, asked about Moreno’s and Brandman’s comments this week. “We are aware of the matter and have looked into it.”
Asked for clarification whether city officials “have looked into it” or “are currently looking into it,” Lyster said “we look at and take seriously any concerns brought to our attention but I am unable to comment further as a personnel matter.”
Barnes showed up to last Tuesday’s meeting to confront Brandman directly, through public comment.
“For god’s sake, if you need help, get it. We don’t deserve someone who could be unstable or could not have the best in mind for us,” Barnes said to Brandman, rousing the applause of some in the council chambers.
The controversy prompted Brandman to disclose he took a leave of absence seeking “help” as far back as December, at the request of Mayor Sidhu, a fellow majority faction ally.
His disclosure came in response to Moreno’s request on Tuesday that Brandman take some time off.
“Interesting that you mentioned the leave that you suggest I take. Because I actually did. Since you brought it up, I will disclose it. The mayor asked me to take a leave in December. That is why I was not at the Dec. 15 council meeting,” Brandman said on Tuesday.
“I have since then received the help that is needed and that’s why you’ve seen me probably act differently … since we returned from the New Year. And I have been a better person for it,” Brandman said.
He added: “I’m very grateful for that. And the mayor and the city manager and the director of Human Resources are aware of much of that information.”
The public wasn’t, said Moreno in a later interview on Thursday: “That means residents were possibly kept in the dark about a potentially unstable person in a position of power.”
The text message saga comes after Moreno was the subject of political scrutiny a few months ago, when his appointee on the Sister City Commission drew scorn over xenophobic remarks about China at one meeting.
Former Sister City commissioner Larry Larsen was promptly removed by Moreno’s foes in the council majority by a vote on April 27.
Moreno leveled light criticism toward Larsen at the time — facing pressure by the council majority to denounce his appointee’s remarks.
He largely urged compassion and bridge-building:
“I believe strongly … (that) before we condemn, we seek to learn and engage and then figure out what is the appropriate method to engage the situation.”
It was Brandman who spearheaded efforts to remove Larsen by getting the issue put on an agenda for a council vote.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.