How easy should it be for a resident to decipher who is contributing to city council candidate campaigns?

That’s the debate Cypress Councilwoman Frances Marquez, often the dissenting vote in the city, is prompting at tonight’s 7 p.m. city council meeting.

Marquez has requested that a discussion be held on putting campaign disclosure statements as well as economic interest statements for candidates and elected officials on the city website.

The meeting will be held today at 7 p.m. at Cypress City Hall and can be monitored via a livestream on the city’s website

In 2020, Voice of OC, working with Chapman University journalism students, published an investigation to see which Orange County cities are the most transparent and accessible when it comes to showcasing elected officials’ conflict of interest forms and their campaign donations forms.

Cypress received a red rating – the lowest of the four color coded ratings given by the students – for not posting either of the forms on their website.

[Read: User-Friendly Government: Which OC Cities are Most Transparent Online]

Marquez’s proposal calls to change those practices, which were apparently updated the year after the Chapman student investigation. 

According to the city staff report for tonight’s meeting, campaign disclosure forms beginning 2021 have been posted on the website while economic interest statements are available on the California Fair Political Practices Commission website, which is linked on the city website.

It’s not the only debate Marquez is bringing forward tonight in a city where transparency issues surrounding city hall have been front and center as of late, especially around the city’s fight against district elections.

Marquez has also asked for a discussion on requiring a competitive bid for all contracts worth more than $10,000.

Councilman Jon Peat, one of her rivals on the dais, is in turn calling for a discussion on what he calls Marquez’s efforts to use her “power” to get outside influences to make changes to the city.

The agenda is setting the stage for yet another heated meeting between the Council majority and Marquez, who was censured by her colleagues earlier this year for allegedly violating the state’s public records act, city policies and codes, and disclosing closed session information.

The councilwoman’s requests come amid concern and questions from residents and Marquez surrounding, published by the Event-NewsEnterprise, over the city’s trash contract with Valley Vista Services that began in 2015. The contract was extended to 2037 back in November without going to bid.

Residents have also raised concerns, that Valley Vista is constantly using the city’s public works yard by their homes as a dump site and about Valley Vista executive George Briggeman, Jr.

Briggeman agreed to a $15,000 penalty issued by the California Fair Political Practices Commission in 2015 for using Green and Clean, LLC, a Wyoming company, to donate to a political action committee and have them pour $13,200 into Anaheim, Lake Forest and Cypress city council races in 2012.

Read the FPPC Complaint here.

Peat has defended the contract with Valley Vista.

He, in turn, has requested to discuss how Marquez is using her connections to people outside of the city to bring changes to Cypress. 

That discussion will also be centered around an email Marquez received that according to Peat’s request is racist and spurring racism on the city council. 

The city staff report does not go into much detail but includes attached email communications to Marquez regarding district elections in the city at the request of Peat.

The city has been sued over their refusal to switch to district elections.

[Read: Cypress Sued For Violating Voting Rights Act After Refusing District Elections

Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman has sent two letters to the City of Cypress demanding the voting method be changed from at-large elections to district-based elections or face a lawsuit but a majority of city council members decided to reject those demands.

The second letter came after a March 2022 vote from the council to reject the first notice Shenkman sent. The vote was done in closed session, and Marquez was the dissenting vote.

Shenkman has followed through with his threat and the city is also facing a lawsuit for allegedly violating the State’s open government meeting law, the Brown Act, over their decision not to switch to district elections behind closed doors.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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