Anaheim – the biggest city in Orange County – has been without a mayor for over a month now after an FBI corruption investigation into its former mayor, Harry Sidhu, and the now squashed Angel Stadium Land Sale he brokered came to light in May.
And it looks like residents may have to wait till November until the Mayor seat is filled as city council members struggle to come to a consensus on how they wish to address the vacancy on the dais.
“It is embarrassing that we do not have a mayor,” said Councilman Jose Moreno at the June 21 city council meeting after he and his colleagues couldn’t agree on nominating a candidate to fill the role as mayor.
“And it is consequential that we don’t have a mayor to work directly with staff on items in between meetings, to be the spokesperson for the council, and to bring back trust and confidence in what we’re doing up here,” he continued.
The city has until July 23 to appoint someone or call for a special election, which staff said is a moot point with the November election just months away.
That means Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil could keep running meetings and helm the city council until after the November election.
O’Neil’s faced constant criticism from many residents for his close ties to Disneyland resort-area interests.
Residents have been showing up to city council meetings and calling on the council to pick Moreno – a staunch critic of the stadium deal who called for more transparency – to serve as mayor until November.
At the same time, they’ve been calling out the other council members for backing Sidhu on the Angel Stadium deal and for taking campaign donations from the same special interests as the former mayor.
“You are all tainted and corrupt so that the very thought that any of you think you are entitled to be interim mayor is absurd. I will say that in order to restore any sense of honesty to the name Anaheim – there is only one person sitting out there who should be interim mayor and his name is Jose Moreno,” said Anaheim resident Jeanine Robbins at the June 21 city council meeting.
She also voiced support for appointing former Republican Mayor Tom Tait.
Moreno tried to appoint Tait to the dais at that meeting but without success.
“For me as a Democrat, I am nominating a Republican, I’ll say in part because he proved himself as someone who was interested in the integrity of the office, who was interested in the integrity of the voice of people,” Moreno said. “And became fully independent, I should say from the interest that we’ve that we are now being scrutinized as a result of.”
Other residents called for Realtor Paul Kott to be appointed as the next mayor, including Councilman Avelino Valencia. But those efforts fizzled out.
Kott said trust needs to be restored at City Hall.
“The residents, the taxpayers, the business community and city staff members have lost their sense of trust within the leadership rank of our city government as we are the embarrassment of Orange County,” he said.
“My only interest is now to help guide our city in a new direction – one that considers a new culture at City Hall, away from the pay to play system, which has toxically metastasized throughout the mayor’s office,” Kott continued.
While Sidhu has denied any wrongdoing, he resigned more than a month ago, saying the resignation will allow the city to move on amid intensified public scrutiny of city hall and a majority of the remaining city council.
But Sidhu wasn’t the only person the FBI has been watching.
Former CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Todd Ament pleaded guilty on Friday federal criminal charges of fraud.
Ament has been described by the FBI in a written affidavit as the ringleader of a group of powerful insiders who controlled public affairs and policymaking through elected officials at City Hall.
The council has until July 23 to pick a replacement for Sidhu who would serve out the remainder of his term.
If the council chooses not to appoint anyone, the mayor’s seat will be vacant until November and O’Neil would continue to run the meetings.
Like Sidhu, O’Neil has got thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Anaheim’s Chamber of Commerce political action committee in recent years as well as contributions from members of the chamber’s board of directors and leadership – including Ament, according to city campaign finance records.
Disney’s main political spending vehicle, Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee, also spent nearly $90,000 to support O’Neil through independent expenditures.
O’Neil has also publicly admitted to being “Elected Official 3” – a subject in an explosive FBI affidavit made public recently, one that details a Chamber of Commerce “retreat” – where policy matters were seemingly discussed well outside the view of the public.
But there is still a chance for the council to appoint a mayor rather than allow O’Neil to continue to run the council meetings.
Councilman Stephen Faessel, with support from Moreno and Valencia, has called for another discussion on the mayoral vacancy.
“Perhaps by July 12 we’ll have a resolution to this,” Faessel said at the June 21meeting.
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