Anaheim residents are expected to get a redacted report of an independent city hall corruption investigation following last year’s explosive allegations that saw a mayor resign and the Angel Stadium deal collapse.
The city’s independent investigation comes after the FBI’s own corruption probe was revealed last May, which ultimately lead to city officials canning stadium sale and former Mayor Harry Sidhu’s resignation, who’s maintained he’s committed no wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged with a crime.
Federal agents alleged in a written affidavit that resort interests, including the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, have outsized influence on policy making at city hall. FBI agents also detailed secret retreats held by the chamber for city council members and high-ranking city officials.
At Tuesday’s meeting, city council members voted 5-1 to hire attorney Scott Tiedemann from the Liebert Cassidy Whitmore law firm to review the final investigation report and make redactions to protect the city from potential employee privacy rights violations.
Direction to redact certain aspects of the investigation came after council members briefly floated an idea earlier this year to limit the probe’s scope.
Tiedemann, a managing partner with the law firm, said he typically represents police officers in disciplinary proceedings.
“I conduct investigations on a regular basis, including for public agencies, I review investigations more than I care to think so I’m very familiar with these issues of privilege and privacy,” he said at the meeting.
Tuesday’s vote comes after Councilwoman Natalie Meeks called for the discussion to address liability issues raised by the retired OC Superior Court Judge overseeing the probe, Clay Smith, in progress reports to the council.
“This path forward allows for us to release a report to the public that tells what happened, that gives the community and the residents and the public access to the findings without violating people’s privacy rights,” Meeks said at the meeting.
[Read: How Much of Anaheim’s City Hall Corruption Probe Will Residents See?]
The independent investigation takes place in a city where Disney and other resort interests spend considerable amounts of money to help get preferred city council candidates involved.
This past election, Disney spent over $1 million on city council races.
Disney’s chief campaign spending vehicle, Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee, spent nearly $380,000 on Rubalcava’s campaign through independent expenditures on things like digital advertising and political mailers.
The Disney-financed PAC spent roughly $547,000 for similar things on Meeks’ city council campaign.
Federal agents alleged Sidhu tried ramming the Angel Stadium deal through for at least $1 million in campaign support from ballclub executives.
Meeks’ request has led some residents to question if they’d ever see the results of the investigation they’re paying for as had been promised by a previous city council who hired JL Group investigators to conduct the probe.
At Tuesday’s meeting, residents – some who made their remarks in Spanish – came to speak out in favor of a public disclosure of the investigation’s findings.
Resident Fred Sigala Jr. demanded to know the substance of what investigators find in their probe.
“We have a right to know the truth about matters that affect the lives of our families and community,” he said.
“Transparency is not just about fulfilling a promise. It’s about creating a culture of trust and openness and upholding the principles of fairness and justice in our society.”
Sigala also raised concerns about the law firm – which has represented the city in the discrimination lawsuit filed in 2014 by former City Attorney Cristina Talley.
Liebert Cassidy Whitmore in the past handled the City of Santa Clara’s investigation into alleged misconduct by their former City Attorney Brian Doyle. The law firm refused to release any records to the San Jose Spotlight regarding the investigation.
Anaheim Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava was the dissenting vote Tuesday and took issue with a decision made by the previous city council in November to publicly release the findings of the investigation following public pressure to do so.
“We shouldn’t have to be dealing with this at this point but we are today because our previous council didn’t get the proper advisement on the position they were taking on that,” she said, questioning Smith on his perspective.
Smith supported the action taken by the council.
“There’s a tremendous concern in the community for what’s being referred to as transparency. And I think all of us certainly are generally in favor of that concept and the public’s right to know particularly when taxpayer dollars are being spent,” Smith said.
At the same time, Smith acknowledged there are state laws protecting employees from disclosure of their employment records as well as attorney client privileged information that needs to be protected.
The retired judge also said investigators have met with Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and members of his staff to share information and that they have yet to start writing the final report, but have a skeletal outline.
Councilman Stephen Faessel, who has stayed relatively quiet about the investigation at meetings since the November election, abstained. He also said he did not want the investigation to be interfered with.
Kristin A. Pelletier, senior assistant city attorney, said what will be redacted depends on the severity of the alleged misconduct, whether those allegations are sustained and the position of the employee.
“Based on what I saw on the FBI affidavit, if that’s what JL (Group) is looking at … I wouldn’t anticipate that much of that would be protected by the right to privacy,” Pelletier said.
“We’re here with the intent of releasing what we can release without triggering lawsuits or violating our own employees’ privacy rights or waiving privilege.”
Pelletier said Tiedemann would be the only one the unredacted report would be released to and it won’t be shared with the city council.
Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said she is happy the council will not be the ones reviewing the report and said protecting employee’s privacy is important to her.
“I feel like this really ensures that we have a readable document that safely and legally summarizes the story that the JL Group is going to hold,” Aitken said.
She and a majority of her council colleagues tried limiting the probe’s scope earlier this year, but reversed course after a wave of residents demanded the city finish the full investigation.
[Read: Anaheim Officials Reverse Course and Fully Fund an Independent City Corruption Probe]
Aitken’s father, Wylie, chairs Voice of OC’s Board of Directors.
Investigators are expected to complete their probe on July 1, but Pelletier said it could take more time to review and redact the report.
Rubalcava took issue with any potential delays to releasing the findings and called it a breach of contract.
“I know that they’ve expressed that we haven’t provided the documents that they requested in a timely manner,” she said about investigators.
“But I am very confident that our city clerk is producing those documents within a timely manner and to have them come back to the city and say that we’re not delivering and make us the excuse for not being able to fulfill their end of the bargain is something that I’m very concerned about.”
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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