After a formal censure against Cypress Councilwoman Frances Marquez for allegedly violating the state’s public records act last month, Marquez has filed her own public records requests which she says is in part an effort to shed light on possible corruption in the city.
The request includes documents in 15 categories Marquez is seeking in an “unredacted form,” including communication among city officials about her censure and emails from the city manager that exclude her as a recipient.
She also requested all conflict of interest forms, known as Form 700s, for the current council dating back to 2012 which show council members economic interests as well as a list of all the contracts and purchase orders the City Manager Peter Grant awarded. Cypress doesn’t post the forms online.
“I have made it very clear that I think the members of the city have an unusually close relationship with businesses here in Cypress, and I have a responsibility to vet out that possible corruption,” she said at Monday’s city council meeting.
“Those of you who have lived and profited off the city I love and call home, your days are numbered. I will not stop until I’m able to uncover this corruption.”
Mayor Paulo Morales said at the meeting that no one is arguing that she is not entitled to the information.
“I’m just trying to understand what it is that you feel that we have not done or disclosed or are a party to, that you would need to bring out such a thing – this Public Records Act request – that you couldn’t have asked us directly,” he questioned.
The council voted 3-1 to receive and file Marquez’s public records request. Marquez was the dissenting vote.
Councilmember Scott Minikus was absent from the meeting.
The nearby City of Anaheim is dealing with corruption allegations of its own after revelations of an FBI probe into city hall, along with former Mayor Harry Sidhu and former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament.
Ament is facing up to 73 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of mortgage fraud, wire fraud and cheating on his taxes.
Sidhu hasn’t been charged with a crime.
Anaheim residents have been increasingly demanding campaign finance reform and increased transparency throughout the city after FBI affidavits indicate special interests exert influence over policy making in the city.
Marquez, who is often the dissenting vote on the Cypress City Council, said since she raised corruption concerns, she has been targeted by her colleagues.
“I and my family have been harassed and targeted. I have been unnecessarily censured, and even now, my simple PRA request gets paraded out and weaponized to try and further harm me and my reputation,” she said.
She also said she didn’t trust city administrators or Grant, causing her to hire her own attorney to file her records request. Her request was made through Best Best & Krieger — a firm that routinely does contracted attorney work for cities.
The city council censured Marquez last month not just for allegedly violating the state’s public records law, but also for violating city policies and codes and disclosing closed session information.
City staff did not respond to a request Tuesday to provide examples that show that Marquez violated the state’s public records law.
At Monday’s meeting, she criticized the request she allegedly failed to fully comply with as “unfair” and a “waste of taxpayer money” started by her colleagues at city hall and their friends.
She also said the records requested of her had private information in there.
Morales shot back and said it was her lawyer that provided the information to the city without restricting that information until after it was provided.
“Your focus of frustration or anger or disappointment, or whatever it is, you’re feeling needs to be directed to your own attorney’s office,” he said at Monday’s meeting.
Grant said at the meeting this is the first time in Cypress’ history that a sitting council member has filed a records request.
He also said that the request seeks some information that Marquez should already have and other documentation that predates her election to the council.
According to a city staff report, lawyers estimate Marquez’s request would take hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars to process.
“The very things that you complain about are the very things that you yourself do,” Morales said at the meeting.
“You started this mess, all of you,” fired back Marquez.
The council is expected to meet again on August 22.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.