Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken – who ran on a campaign platform of transparency and change – is calling for a series of reform discussions one week after the release of an independent corruption probe into city hall.
Those discussions, which Aitken scheduled late Monday for discussion at next Tuesday’s city council meeting – include strengthening the city’s lobbyist ordinance, auditing the use of federal Covid dollars for tourism promotion, considering a city hall whistleblower protection ordinance, and cutting the city manager’s down to $100,000.
“Restoring transparency and public confidence will take time, and reforms will likely come in stages. I have instructed staff to place these items on the agenda for our next council meeting because they represent actions we can immediately take as we work to rebuild trust,” she said in a Monday statement.
Aitken did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s the first series of reform discussions she’s scheduled for public debate since she was sworn into office over seven months ago.
The discussions are scheduled as more and more residents renew calls for changes in OC’s largest city like campaign finance reform and as others call for officials to resign on the heels of an independent corruption probe dropping in Anaheim.
Last week, JL Group investigators released a scathing 353-page report detailing loose regulations of lobbyists, influence peddling and a misuse of federal Covid bailout dollars.
Investigators wrote in their report that $1.5 million of the $6.5 million federal Covid bailout dollars Anaheim city council members gave to Visit Anaheim, the city’s tourism bureau, was diverted to a nonprofit controlled by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.
The investigators allege the $1.5 million was part of a conspiracy by former Chamber CEO Todd Ament, former Mayor Harry Sidhu and Jay Burress, the head of Visit Anaheim.
Neither Ament nor Sidhu nor Burress have responded to requests for comment.
“The release of last week’s independent report confirmed the wrongdoing that many suspected was going on for years. It showed rampant corruption in the former mayor’s office, and it appears to have been carried out in collusion with groups that are supposed to be our city’s community partners,” Aitken wrote in her Monday evening statement.
Her father, Wylie Aitken, chairs the Voice of OC board of directors.
One of the discussions scheduled for next Tuesday is a debate on an internal audit of the $6.5 million given to Visit Anaheim and the possibility of the money being paid back to the general fund.
There is also expected to be a discussion on bolstering the city’s lobbyist ordinance with a more clear definition of what a lobbyist is as well as a debate on the public reporting of lobbyists meetings with city officials.
Other discussions include making city officials’ calendars more public, how to best cooperate with state and federal agencies on external audits, and posting contracts on the city website.
An additional reform includes cutting the city manager’s signing authority by $150,000 – an issue Voice of OC in partnership with Chapman students wrote about in May.
Journalists found that Anaheim City Manager Jim Vanderpool had the highest signing authority in the county.
The discussions will not include several other changes suggested by the independent investigators.
Aitken’s Monday statement on agendizing discussion items did not address city investigators’ focus on the city’s ticket disclosure policy on publicly owned venues like the Honda Center, Angel Stadium and the Convention Center.
Or the hiring of a citywide ethics commissioner to oversee lobbyist and campaign finance disclosures – another reform also recommended by investigators.
Prior to the release of the report, Aitken told the Voice of OC in a phone interview in July that once the findings were released she planned to come to the next scheduled city council meeting with recommendations to improve policies and procedures in Anaheim.
On July 31, the day the report was released, Aitken issued a statement calling for the formation of an advisory group made up of community members, government officials, business leaders and lawyers with the aim of coming up with ideas for reforms.
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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