Anaheim City spokesman Mike Lyster has popped up in two separate and damning documents highlighting alleged public corruption in Anaheim.
And as elected officials representing residents at the local, state and federal level join in on calls for resignations of implicated officials in Anaheim, Lyster’s fate remains unclear.
Lyster’s name landed in a 353-page independent corruption probe report that details alleged criminal violations, influence peddling, pay to play schemes, loose regulations over lobbyists and a disregard for the state’s chief open meeting law – the Brown Act.
His job title landed in former Mayor Harry Sidhu’s agreement to plead guilty to lying to federal investigators stemming from corruption surrounding the now canned Angel Stadium land sale.
Lyster has served as the city’s Chief Communications Officer since 2015, working under three mayors, including Sidhu – who is at the center of corruption allegations in Anaheim that surfaced in sworn FBI affidavits in May 2022.
According to Transparent California – a statewide database for public pay and pensions, Lyster made almost a quarter of million dollars in total pay and benefits that very same year the corruption scandal kicked off.
Sidhu agreed to plead guilty this month to a series of federal charges, including lying to federal agents about sharing confidential information with an Angels’ consultant amid stadium negotiations and trying to ram through the stadium sale for a $1 million in campaign support.
The plea agreement details a Sept. 20, 2020 email from an unnamed Angel consultant about a mock city council meeting to defend the sale of the stadium which was sent to the private emails of Sidhu, two other city council members and two city staff members including the Chief Communications Officer.
To read the plea agreement, click here.
Lyster has not responded to multiple requests for comment for this article and it’s unclear if the city council meeting rehearsal took place.
The plea agreement is raising questions as to what role, if any, the city’s top spokesman played in Sidhu’s efforts to fast track the stadium sale for a $1 million in campaign finance and whether Lyster should keep his job.
According to the independent investigators, the FBI subpoenaed Lyster and instructed him to “bring all Angel Stadium negotiation communications and anything he forwarded to” the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and their former CEO Todd Ament, Angels lobbyist Jeff Flint and Angels Baseball.
After the plea agreement went public, Congressman Lou Correa, State Senator Tom Umberg and Assemblyman Avelino Valencia issued a statement demanding that any elected official or city staff member involved in the planning of the mock meeting resign.
Correa said in a Tuesday phone call that the joint statement speaks for itself and would not name anyone specifically he felt should resign when asked about Lyster but said it was more than one person.
“I believe all those people who were part of this plan should resign,” he said. “Anaheim has a lot of housekeeping to do.”
Correa adds that the FBI probe into Anaheim is nowhere near being finished.
“There’s a heck of a lot more that’s going to be coming up not only in Anaheim, but possibly other cities as well,” he said.
Umberg provided a statement over email Wednesday, but also didn’t specifically name anyone.
“The idea of this meeting is concerning. The people of Anaheim deserve a full truth of this allegation. I stand by my statement that anyone who participated in the planning and attempt to defraud taxpayers should resign,” Umberg wrote.
In an OC Register opinion piece, Umberg demanded the termination of the stadium lease in response to the plea agreement and corruption probe in Anaheim.
Valencia, a former Anaheim City Councilmember, did not respond to questions on whether Lyster should be fired or resign.
Mayor Ashleigh Aitken also has called for the resignation of people involved in the mock meetings.
In a Thursday text message, Aitken wrote that the plea agreement raises serious legal and ethical concerns.
“I believe any city official who facilitated or participated in the mock city council meeting should come forward and resign. To hang your hat on whether or not the sham meeting was a Brown Act violation misses the point,” she wrote.
“It was clearly unethical and a violation of public trust.”
Her father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s Board of Directors.
The rest of the city council has not responded to requests for comment on whether Lyster should be fired.
Lyster has also not responded to questions regarding demands for him to resign or a request for city business emails sent to his personal email.
Voice of OC has submitted a public records request for the email on the mock city council meeting sent to Lyster and all city business related emails sent to Lyster’s personal email.
David Loy, legal director for the First Amendment Coalition, said in a phone interview this month that it is best practice to do city business on official email accounts.
“Messages and texts are not exempt from the public records act simply because they’re sent on a private device or account, as long as they retain to the public’s business,” Loy said. “If they’re going to do business, those remain public records, and if the city gets a records request that implicates (the messages), the officials have a duty to cooperate with that.”
In an interview, former City Councilman Jose Moreno, a critic of the stadium sale, recalled a lack of public discussion on selling Angel Stadium and “obfuscation by the public information officer” Lyster who he said was “cheerleading” the deal.
Lyster and other city officials were holding community meetings about the land sale before the city council initially voted to move forward with the sale in December 2019.
All before it was known the final cash price would be reduced from $320 million to $150 million for the stadium and the roughly 150 acres it sits on.
Moreno said it “suggests how our city executive offices at the time may have been misinforming and manipulating public opinion to put pressure on accelerating what we now know is an illegal deal.”
He also said Lyster should resign if he can’t prove he tried to report the mock city council meetings to his supervisors.
“Whether he attended or not, is irrelevant. He has a duty and a responsibility as a public official in his capacity to report malfeasance, and any organizing efforts that would undermine the work of the city council as a whole,” Moreno said.
He adds the same should go for any other city council member or officials who participated or knew about the planned mock city council meetings and didn’t report it.
Former Councilwoman Denise Barnes – who also stood against the stadium sale – echoed similar concerns about Lyster in an interview earlier this month.
She said issues like the stadium sale would often be promoted by Sidhu, Lyster and the council majority before it was officially voted on – all without input from her or Moreno.
“We were in that outside circle and not in that inner circle – the frustration was always there,” Barnes said.
Lyster’s name also pops up in a recent city commissioned independent corruption investigation report multiple times and alleged he used his personal phone to conduct city business.
JL Group investigators called out Lyster in their report for failing to turn over public records on his private phone for them to review.
“This lack of access to Lyster’s device or records hampered JLG’s investigation,” investigators wrote.
Correa said people involved in the alleged corruption shouldn’t be at city hall.
“The issue is making sure that we do not have people in City Hall, either elected or employees that think that they are there to benefit from the taxpayers,” he said.
When asked how to keep people like that out of local government, Correa said:
“Make sure that they know we’re watching.”
Noah Biesiada contributed to the reporting in this article.
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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