Irvine City Council members will no longer be able to appoint family members to any of the city’s various committees or commissions, meaning Councilman Larry Agran’s wife will be kicked off an advisory committee.
The move by council members Tuesday night comes after several other Orange County cities including Westminster and Laguna Niguel ran into similar issues with council members appointing or trying to put family members on city committees.
Phyllis Agran serves as Councilman Agran’s appointee to the city’s Children, Youth and Family Advisory Committee, and is a pediatrician specializing in pediatric gastroenterology who also teaches at UC Irvine’s school of medicine, according to a news release from the councilman when she was appointed.
Councilwoman Tammy Kim credited a Voice of OC article as the “inspiration,” for the new ordinance, saying she realized Irvine had gaps in its nepotism policies that led to fights in other Orange County cities.
“When we’re married to someone or they’re living in our household, they already have our ear by extension, they already are at the table. We are providing opportunities for those who are not at the table,” Kim said at the council’s Tuesday evening meeting. “We have so many talented people in this city. I would rather provide opportunities for them to serve.”
Council members voted 4-1 to adopt the new nepotism ordinance, with Larry Agran dissenting.
Kim also repeated many times that it was never meant as an attack on any single councilmember or family member after she was quoted pointing out that Larry Agran’s wife served as his appointee, saying the goal was to allow more diverse opinions on the committees.
“This is in no way meant to be an attack on any one individual,” Kim said. “We’re all held to the same standard.”
Following Kim’s remarks, Councilman Agran fought back against her assertion that it was purely a good governance issue.
“It’s pretty hard to conclude that this is anything but an effort to have my wife removed,” Agran said. “I can hardly believe we’re going to be spending time discussing this when we have other real problems in the city … we don’t have a problem with nepotism in this city.”
He argued it would only be nepotism if Phyllis Agran was compensated for her work and was unqualified, and pointed to several past council members who had also appointed his wife as their representative on the committee.
Larry Agran unsuccessfully tried to amend the ordinance to apply to only paid appointed positions.
“I search for the most qualified people I can find to serve on committees…I don’t think there’s another person in the city more qualified than my wife,” Councilman Agran said.
Kim thanked Larry and Phyllis Agran for their work, then moved to approve the new ordinance.
While the discussion was originally poised to just talk about the general issue of nepotism on the initial agenda, a new city ordinance was added to the item three days before the meeting to codify that no family members could be appointed to the city’s committees and commissions.
Larry Agran took issue with the fact the ordinance only targeted those directly related to councilmembers, pointing out how if he and his wife were divorced or never married but lived together there would be no violation.
“The only reason she would be kicked off of this committee is because of our marital status, the fact that we’ve been married for 56 years. If we were just friends with benefits, under those circumstances this wouldn’t cover it,” Agran said.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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