Anaheim City Council members are slated to consider tightening up the city’s lobbyist regulations following an FBI corruption probe that caused a wave of resident backlash and numerous calls for reform.
And the council is also expected to discuss extending the amount of time city officials have to hold onto emails that are public record before deleting them – keeping them for two years, up from the current 90-day policy.
In a public court filing earlier this year, an FBI affidavit alleges former Mayor Harry Sidhu deleted numerous emails to hide records on the Angel Stadium sale from the Orange County Grand Jury.
Sidhu has denied any wrongdoing.
The fallout at city hall has prompted Councilman Jose Moreno to call for a series of campaign finance reforms, but his efforts eventually died after he failed to gain enough support from his colleagues.
At the council’s upcoming Tuesday night meeting, Councilman Avelino Valencia is calling for emails to be kept for two years and for specific violations of the city’s laws on lobbying activity as a misdemeanor. Valencia did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Click here to stream the 5 p.m. meeting.
“These proposed changes to the Code are designed to increase accountability and transparency in City government,” reads a city staff report.
In a phone interview Monday, Moreno said while he supports the effort, he doesn’t believe it will address resident concerns surrounding the FBI corruption allegations.
“What really nurtures that culture and backroom deals is not emails, it’s that they are currying favor or want to sustain favor with entities that will fund their campaigns,” he said. “Their communications will become less written and more verbal.”
Moreno said the true essence of the problem the FBI’s investigation has pointed out was the “corruptive influence” of large campaign contributions.
The campaign finance reforms failed to gain traction with Councilmembers Trevor O’Neil, Gloria Ma’ae and Jose Diaz.
Moreno thinks the council will support the proposed changes on tonight’s agenda.
“It’s low hanging fruit,” he said. “If they do (oppose), I think they will have even deeper explaining to do.”
Councilmembers will consider making certain violations of the lobbying ordinance a misdemeanor – including filing false or inaccurate lobbying reports, as well as working as an unregistered lobbyist.
The city maintains a list of lobbying activity with reports on their website.
Hiding payment on lobbying activities could also result in misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or six months in jail under the proposed changes, according to a city staff report.
If convicted, the person will be banned from lobbying activity for one year.
The proposal would also make lobbyists sign the disclosures under penalty of perjury.
Meanwhile, City Council members have been facing increased public pressure for reforms, greater transparency and accountability after FBI agents made their corruption probe into Anaheim City Hall and its dealings public in May.
Federal agents alleged in a criminal complaint that the former head of the local chamber of commerce Todd Ament and an unnamed lobbyist were at the helm of a small shadowy group of individuals that yielded significant influence over city hall.
Investigators also described conversations between unnamed political consultants about how lobbyists in town get paid outside of public scrutiny.
“At the end of the day, it’s just moving money back and forth but it will clear a lot of shit off of our books too,” said one unnamed lobbyist, referred to as “Political Consultant 1” in the complaint against Ament.
Earlier this year, Ament pleaded guilty to various fraud charges.
Will City Officials Keep Their Emails Longer?
In a sworn affidavit, FBI agents included a wiretapped phone conversation of former Mayor Harry Sidhu allegedly discussing destroying documents related to the now squashed Angel Stadium land sale.
“It was my private emails on even my text and all that with you, I erased everything,” Sidhu told an unnamed Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee in a recorded conversation.
FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins wrote in the affidavit that he believes the emails included internal city documents on the land deal that he says Sidhu sent to the Angels through intermediaries to help them.
Sidhu resigned in May and through his attorney, disputes that he forwarded protected information to the LA Angels.
Adkins also alleged Sidhu engaged in witness tampering and tried to hide records from the OC Grand Jury. In the affidavit, he notes Sidhu’s emails should have been turned over in a public records request and lawsuit filed by a citizens group.
In Anaheim, the city’s current policy is to automatically delete emails after just 90 days. This includes the mayor, city council members and executive staff. Other emails are deleted after 37 days.
In nearby Cypress, council members implemented a policy in June requiring staff and city officials to use government accounts for city business, transferring any documents on personal devices to those publicly accessible ones.
The policy also requires that the officials sign affidavits declaring they’ve searched their devices and personal accounts to turn over the requested records.
The proposed changes in Anaheim do not mandate similar requirements as in Cypress.
Moreno said even if there was such a policy during stadium negotiations under Sidhu, emails would’ve still likely been deleted.
“It wasn’t emails so much that the FBI intercepted. It was wiretaps. It was conversations,” he said.
“At the heart of this is the corruptive influence of huge financial interests and that’s still an open question in Anaheim.”
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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