Just how far-reaching is some of the alleged corruption at Anaheim City Hall that is detailed in an FBI probe that surfaced nearly three months ago?
That’s the question a city-commissioned investigation could answer following the release of two FBI affidavits back in the middle of May, which detailed the influence of big business interests on city hall.
And there’s also questions about how effective the investigation itself will be.
The FBI probe has also increased public scrutiny from residents demanding a series of changes at city hall, who have been criticizing the influence of Disneyland resort-area interests on city policy making.
At their Tuesday night meeting, city council members are expected to pick someone to be at the helm of the city’s investigation.
It comes two months after council members began floating the idea of a probe into city hall that delves into campaign contributions made to the council members, as well as city contracts made with those contributors.
Ely Flores, the Executive Director of Orange County Communities Organized For Responsible Development (OCCORD), said he hopes the city conducts a transparent investigation.
“The city has not done a great job in governing themselves and being accountable,” he said in a Friday interview.
“What we hope happens is not just the truth comes out and that we understand what all happened in terms of the dealings with Anaheim and Angel Stadium and all that but we are pushing for real policy to come out of that, to ensure accountability in the city.”
Flores said they’re continuing to fight for reforms like campaign finance changes and ensure residents are more involved in the decision-making process when it comes to issues like housing.
Multiple efforts to reform the way campaign contributions work in the city have failed at the dais – with council members repeatedly deadlocking – despite demands from residents to limit big corporate money and Disneyland resorts influence on local politics.
The reforms would have instituted a series of changes, including a one-year blackout period on council members’ ability to vote on an item that benefits a campaign contributor – including independent expenditures, which typically fund mailers and digital campaign advertising.
Flores said the organization has concerns with not just the investigation falling through like campaign finance reforms, but just how far the investigation will go if it does happen.
“We feel that there’s a lot of people involved, including possibly some of the council members themselves. So what is the incentive to truly have a transparent investigation?” he said.
When city council members publicly discussed conducting their probe at their June 21 meeting, they struggled with setting the parameters of the investigation – having difficulty on deciding questions like how long should the investigation last and how much should it cost.
Councilman Jose Moreno even raised concerns about going with the only firm city staff consulted to conduct the investigation at the time – Orrick, a white collar crimes and public corruption investigations firm that has also helped the city with its bonds for at least the past decade.
The council did not move forward with Orrick that night.
This time, council members will have options as to which firm will lead the investigation with a cost ranging between $1.5-2.5 Million.
These include the following law firms: the Brower Law Group, based out of Laguna Hills; Hanson Bridgett, which operates throughout California; JL Group, based in Laguna Niguel and also provides investigative services; and King & Spalding.
According to bids for the investigation, the Brower Law Group disclosed they’re currently representing the city in a case against an insurance company who denied the city coverage after a jury ruled against Anaheim and some of its police officers after they used a chokehold and killed a man in 2016.
The case relates to a jury verdict last year that granted over $13 million to the children of Fermin Vincent Valenzuela, who was killed by police, deciding that police used unreasonable force.
Police officers say Valenzuela was under the influence of methamphetamines, violent and resisting arrest, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The insurance company refused to pay claiming they did not receive proper written notice, according to the law group’s bid to conduct the investigation.
Their bid states they have no conflicts of interest.
“Bower Law’s work with the city is limited to a technical issue with the filing of a claim against an insurance policy. There is the potential for Bower, or any firm, to separate one part of its work with a city from another, but ultimately that will be a consideration and decision for our City Council,” said city spokesman Mike Lyster in a Friday email.
“Our goal is to share all proposals received and seek direction from the Council.”
Six retired judges have also expressed interest in serving as a neutral administrator and working with the law firm that ends up being selected by the city.
These include: Richard Aronson, Luis Cardenas, Raymond Ikola, Sheila Sonenshine, David Thompson and Clay Smith.
To read about their backgrounds, click here.
Meanwhile, residents have been routinely showing up to city council meetings since the FBI released their affidavits in May, calling out city officials over the alleged corruption and demanding change.
Some have started to use Fabuloso – an all-purpose cleaner – as a symbol in their efforts to clean up the alleged corruption in Anaheim.
Flores said the reason Fabuloso has become a symbol for cleaning up Anaheim is because it’s a staple cleaning product in the Latino community.
“This is something that we all recognize. It’s something that our families use, it is something that we use to clean everything up in our house,” he said.
“I think that’s why it’s picked up so much steam, because it’s easy to gravitate around. It’s easy to understand.”
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.
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