Is there a cost to restoring public trust in City Hall?
That was the question Anaheim City Council members asked themselves and each other on Tuesday night when fleshing out the details of a city-commissioned investigation into the picture of City Hall corruption that the FBI painted in a set of affidavits last month.
One month after the probe prompted former Mayor Harry Sidhu to resign and brought federal charges against the Chamber of Commerce’s former CEO, Todd Ament, some council members found themselves stuck Tuesday on how long the city’s own investigation should take.
And how much it would cost.
City Manager Jim Vanderpool, who disclosed his own attendance at meetings among powerful Anaheim interests highlighted by the FBI, at one point during the meeting called the endeavor of organizing and procuring such an investigation “an impossible task.”
Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil raised concerns that there wasn’t yet an actual outlined budget for the investigation in front of the dais.
“I’m hesitant to approve something until I know there’s a cost — we still haven’t developed what that cost is going to be,” O’Neil said.
At the same time, Councilmember Jose Moreno questioned the optics of city council members and staff – many of whom are at least touched by the FBI probe – scoping out and setting the parameters for an investigation into what may very well be themselves.
“The difficulty of all this is that … the public is quite weary of this chamber, everyone in it,” Moreno said. “Maybe with the exception of one (himself).”
“Everyone but one on this dais got a lot of money from the cabal or were appointed as a function of that cabal,” Moreno said.
Moreno also raised alarms about the fact that city staff consulted Orrick, a white collar crimes and public corruption investigations firm, on the scope of the investigation while also recommending Orrick to conduct the investigation itself.
City staff said Orrick has also helped the city with its bonds for at least the past 10 years.
Council members opted not to go with Orrick immediately, instead voting to request proposals to wade through and nail down a specific investigations contractor at a future meeting – with the caveat that the investigation would likely take more time to get started.
In their report attached to Tuesday’s agenda, staff wrote Orrick is “prepared to begin an investigation and to retain forensic accounting consultants following the June 21 Council meeting. This would allow for an expedited start.”
Moreno, as a result, questioned whether anyone had done background research on the firm. He said he did his own quick scan of their website.
“It’s a lot of stuff y’all do, it’s impressive, but some of it is also defending white-collar criminals. You’re also an agency that helps create a narrative to help crisis management.”
“We have been asked tonight to consider hiring (Orrick),” Moreno said. “That was not the directive (at an earlier June 7 council meeting).”
“The directive was to do an RFP (Request for Proposals) … To me this is part of the problem or could be indicative of a problem … Maybe it’s just me, but integrity is really important. It doesn’t mean that folks aren’t having it at the dais. I’m sure the intent may be there, but it gets clouded. Right now it’s clouded.”
Vanderpool said his intent with recommending Orrick was “to be responsive” to the demands for an investigation while also “being sensitive to time,” seeing as the November citywide elections are on the horizon.
“I fully disclosed the awkward relationship and the option being presented … this is the impossible task,” Vanderpool said.
Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae, whose 2021 appointment to the city council swirled with political controversy stemming from her resort ties, defended staff’s handling of the investigator search.
She also told Moreno that night to stop criticizing her and other colleagues who voted together as a majority bloc under former Mayor Sidhu.
“There is a lot of accusations and speculations that are being made and that investigation isn’t even finished. Much of what was released (by the FBI) was based on an incomplete investigation,” she said.
Ma’ae continued, “I’m sick and tired of all the insinuations and innuendos and references of the ‘cabal’ and it’s really ridiculous to continue this narrative. It feels so politically driven, being in an election year, it’s just an attack on the people who are here trying to do the work.”
Facing Moreno, she then went into the subject of her 2021 appointment to the council.
“I come into this position, appointed based on my service to the community … and you totally misconstrued … and implied this is preordained. You have had that narrative from day one, and I’m sick of it. I know who I am, God knows who I am, and I know why I’m here.”
“And I won’t accept anymore of this bashing of my character,” Ma’ae said.
Moreno, in response to Ma’ae’s point about the FBI probe being incomplete, pointed to the fact that when the affidavits initially came out, Ma’ae joined the rest of the City Council that same week in calling for Sidhu’s resignation.
“You can call it accusation or speculation, Gloria, but that’s what I heard for three years: I speculate, come up with things. And look where we are,” he said.
“Look where we are.”
Still, other resort-backed council members seemed aware the city investigation was a potential optics issue.
After Moreno aired his list of issues with the recommendations that night, Councilmember Stephen Faessel said, “It sounds like there is a concern that Orrick may be inappropriate because of past contracts with the city and you know, it’s a good point. It’s a valid point. And I guess thoroughness is more important than timing here.”
“Councilmember Moreno, you’re the most careful on this and I will defer to that, if you feel there is more work to be done on this – two more weeks, that’s fine,” Faessel said.
He also raised concern over what the public would think about a probe that didn’t have the united support of the entire council.
Namely, before the vote, Faessel asked one member of the dais by name if they were okay with the parameters the council had begun to close in on that night.
That council member was Moreno.