Anaheim residents will get to see if their elected leaders are corrupt or not after they pressured the City Council to explicitly commit to releasing an internal probe.
Councilmembers voted unanimously without much discussion at their Tuesday meeting to publically divulge the findings of the investigation that residents are paying for.
The results could implicate city staff and officials themselves.
Late last month, investigators told city council members that they’ve found “great stuff” in their corruption probe.
It comes after revelations of an FBI corruption probe into city hall and former Mayor Harry Sidhu.
Federal agents allege Sidhu tried ramming through the Angel Stadium land sale for $1 million in campaign support from team officials. Sidhu hasn’t been publicly charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing.
The FBI also alleged Sidhu deleted numerous emails to hide records on the Angel Stadium sale from the Orange County Grand Jury. Now the Los Angeles Times is taking Sidhu to court to get him to hand over records related to the probe.
And the former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Todd Ament, pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges earlier this year.
An FBI affidavit states Ament and other resort interests wield considerable influence over policy making at city hall – even detailing private retreats hosted by the Chamber for council members and top city officials.
The decision to release the investigation came after more than two dozen residents during public comments called on council members to release the findings once the investigation was finalized.
Many of the speakers were with Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) – a nonprofit community group that has been vocal against the alleged corruption in Anaheim revealed by FBI agents earlier this year.
“How many other cities in Orange County do you know that are being investigated by the FBI? How many cities do you know where residents have to show up and ask their council members to release the report on the corruption investigation?” said Fernando Delgado, a campaign manager with OCCORD, at the meeting.
City council members hired investigators in August – three months after FBI agents revealed their own corruption probe in court filings.
The investigation is expected to be finalized in March or April 2023, according to a city staff report.
Councilman Avelino Valencia said at the meeting that there was an assumption among public commenters that the council wasn’t going to reveal the result of the probe.
“I do understand the distrust, and the need to make sure that this actually takes place,” he said. “For me, this is a simple decision.”
There’s a reason for residents’ distrust.
City Attorney Rob Fabela said Tuesday’s night’s decision means the report will be released when it’s finished, unless a future city council explicitly votes against releasing the corruption probe.
Residents Demand City Publicize Corruption Probe Findings
An hour before the meeting in front of the doors of Anaheim City Hall, members of OCCORD and residents demanded the findings be made public.
“We want names, we want dollar figures, and we want the truth. The community deserves the truth. If the truth reveals at the city council members were complicit in the ex-Mayor schemes of the Angel Stadium. We also want their resignation,” said Ely Flores, Executive Director of OCCORD.
Marisol Ramirez, the Director of Programming for OCCORD, said residents have no trust that the current council will be transparent with the findings.
“We’ve had enough of our elected representatives keeping the community in the dark, we’ve had enough of council members serving the needs of corporate interests,” she said.
Other residents including representatives from groups like Chispa and the People’s Homeless Task Force spoke into a microphone in front of a banner that reads “Stop Disney / Angels CORRUPTION!” and joined them in their demands.
“We are paying for the audit due to this Council’s illegal actions. It is our money that they are using,” said resident Jeanine Robbins, from the People’s Homeless Task Force. “We have a right to know what happened, who was involved and who did what.”
As of Oct. 26, the investigation has cost taxpayers $150,000.
Penélope Lopez, an organizing director with Chispa, said that corruption in the city has taken the form of neglect and disinvestment and that her community was one of the hardest hit by the COVID pandemic.
“When residents have to advocate tooth and nail for well lit streets, there is a problem. There is a problem when residents have to choose between paying for the rent and paying for their food,” she said.
“And there is a big ass problem when special interest groups like SOAR and the (Police Officers Association) continue to buy candidates every election.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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