Anaheim city officials’ emails will now be kept longer on city servers and if lobbyists violate the city’s regulations on lobbying activity they will face a misdemeanor and a possible suspension.
The changes come following an FBI corruption probe into city hall that has caused increased resident uproar, calls for city council members to resign and for various reforms in Anaheim.
“Bearing in mind the accounts that were outlined in the FBI affidavits. In my opinion, it’s imperative that as a council, we take action by implementing policy,” Councilman Avelino Valencia, who requested the changes, said Tuesday.
“This is critical not only to make it clear that we will not stand for such actions in our city, but also to reduce the possibility of similar actions taking place in the future.”
City council members voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance tightening lobbyist regulations by making certain violations a misdemeanor as well as extend the amount of time the city has to hold on to emails that are public records from city officials to two years as opposed to 90 days.
In an FBI affidavit attached to a public court filing earlier this year, Special Agent Brian Adkins alleged that former Mayor Harry Sidhu deleted numerous emails to hide records on the Angel Stadium land sale from the Orange County Grand Jury.
Adkins also alleged Sidhu tried to secure $1 million in campaign contributions from the Angels to ram through the now squashed land sale.
Sidhu resigned in May and has denied wrongdoing.
The new ordinance will require the city to keep emails of council members, council staff and city executives that are public record for a two-year period.
Councilman Jose Moreno, a critic of the now dead stadium deal, pushed to get councilmembers to bump up the retention period to four years – the term of a council member – noting that some projects in the city take longer than two years.
His efforts failed to receive support from his colleagues.
Moreno, along with residents, have called for a series of campaign finance reforms since the FBI corruption investigation, but those efforts failed to gain traction with Councilman Trevor O’Neil, Gloria Ma’ae and Jose Diaz.
His efforts to extend the proposed email retention period Tuesday also faced pushback from colleagues – some who felt four years would create more work for city staff and extend state requirements.
Valencia said two-year retention matches state requirements.
City Clerk Theresa Bass said changing the ordinance to require emails be kept for four years would cost the city nothing.
Still, councilmembers resisted.
Councilman Jose Diaz said increasing email retention to four years would be too much of a burden on staff when public records requests are made.
Councilman Trevor O’Neil agreed and added that in the fiscal year of 2021-22, staff spent a little over 1,614 hours of work processing records requests.
“It’s government’s job. It’s something that we need to be transparent, we need to have that level of trust with the public that information is not being hidden, but it also has to be balanced,” O’Neil said. “Two years makes the most sense to me.”
Moreno said since the public trust was broken “by multiple entities here” it would make sense to go beyond the requirements of the state.
“If we had had this policy in place, and had a four year term of the mayor, I’m sure a lot more could be found of what was happening at the time of the deal with the Angels,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to be an inordinate more amount of work, given the technology that we have.”
City Tightens Rules For Lobbyists
On Tuesday, Councilmembers also made specific violations of the city’s lobbyist ordinance misdemeanors including filing false or inaccurate lobbying reports, hiding payment on lobbying activity as well as working as an unregistered lobbyist.
These misdemeanor violations would be punishable by $1,000 fine or six months in jail and if a person is convicted, they may be banned for up to a year from lobbying in the city.
Repeat offenders may be banned for three years, an amendment to the ordinance made at the request of Moreno.
The changes to the lobbyist rules come months after federal agents alleged in a criminal complaint that an unnamed lobbyist was a leader at the helm of a small shadowy group of individuals that yielded significant influence over city hall.
Councilman Stephen Faessel said he supports the changes to the lobbyist laws.
“Basically, that throws the onus on the lobbyists. That’s where it belongs,” he said.
Moreno said it wasn’t just lobbyists, but elected officials called out by the FBI and asked if there should be consequences for the elected officials engaged with lobbyists who broke the rules.
“It takes two to tango,” he said. “If an elected (official) continues to meet with a lobbyist who’s getting paid through other means, as we saw on the FBI affidavit, then there should be some culpability there too, and some accountability there.”
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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