While Anaheim City Council members lag on efforts to reform City Hall, a local community group on Thursday will seek input and questions straight from residents to get their thoughts on the corruption scandal plaguing the city. 

On Thursday, three different OC community groups will host a panel consisting of former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, former City Councilman Jose Moreno, OC Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento and longtime Anaheim activist Cynthia Ward. 

“I think community groups are doing what should be expected of good leadership in the community,” said Jose Moreno, who publicly challenged the resort-backed council majority while in office.

He added:

“And it is disappointing that our elected officials in the City of Anaheim, nor the City of Anaheim itself, has a forum to hear from their own constituents.” 

It’s part of a growing effort to get Anaheim residents’ concerns and reform ideas placed before city council members – who up until Tuesday have largely sputtered on reforms. 

While the council has laid out a schedule to discuss potential reforms, OCCORD and residents are demanding swift reform measures in light of a public corruption scandal surrounding the illegal sale of Angel Stadium, federal fraud charges and the alleged misuse of pandemic bailout money under the shadowy control of a secret Disneyland resort influence network.

“I think it’s a shame, honestly, that local organizations have to put this on,” said Marisol Ramirez, director of programs at OCCORD, in a Tuesday phone interview. 

Some local leaders appear to be picking up on the concern.

At the City Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Councilmember Norma Kurtz said she’s interested in seeing the city host its own forum.

“I’d like a discussion about having some type of public forum to get input, maybe have open discussion about it outside of a council meeting,” Kurtz said. “But again, just the opportunity to see where we’re at, what kind of reaction we’re getting, how much progress we’re making, and then decide on whether there’d be value in a public forum of some type.”

Meanwhile, Ramirez said Thursday’s panel is the first in a planned series – “we already have a date for the second one (the group has yet to announce it) and a pending date for a third.”

For council members to publicly dismiss residents’ corruption concerns from the dais is “really embarrassing for our local government,” said Ramirez, adding that it diminishes residents’ trust in the legitimacy of their current City Hall. “We need a space to be able to educate residents.”

Ramirez said the City Council has been invited to attend, though not to put anyone “on the spot.” 

“We don’t want (their presence) to deter from the presentation we have in mind and the panelists — we hope they will do their due diligence to show up and listen to public input,” she added.

[Read: Anaheim Officials Set to Discuss Reforms in Wake of Corruption Probe]

The scandal – fueled by FBI affidavits last year, a July 31 city-commissioned investigation report, a federal plea agreement by former Mayor Harry Sidhu, and a guilty plea from former Chamber of Commerce leader Todd Ament – has prompted calls for reforms at City Hall and resignations of the city manager and city attorney. 

[Read: Calls for Reform, Resignations, Gain Momentum in Anaheim After Corruption Probe]

But weeks after the city report – and nine months since a mayor who campaigned on reforms took office – not much has happened, and reform policies like whistleblower protections and campaign finance reform have been de-limbed by a resort-backed council majority.

The question of what’s next could be fleshed out among those council members’ constituents at Thursday night’s forum hosted by the following activist groups: Orange County Communities for Responsible Development, the Kennedy Commission, and the Orange County Congregation Community.

“We think this is the ideal time for the local government in Anaheim to look at what has happened and be able to create dialogue with the community,” said Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the Kennedy Commission. “And to move forward with reforms that help the government be responsive to community means.”

The forum will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ponderosa Family Resource Center at 320 E Orangewood Avenue

It might be one of the public’s only chances to discuss amongst themselves the crisis at their local City Hall – one that can determine where their often working-class tax dollars go: 

To corporate subsidies, or community centers and street lighting in a city where nearly half the residents are on a public health plan.

[Read: The Happiest Place on Earth is Surrounded by Some of Orange County’s Poorest]

It’s also an opportunity for the community to meet outside of regular City Council meetings, where people are restricted to three minutes’ speaking time, and has been council members’ only source of public input nonetheless, since the damning federal affidavits on City Hall wrongdoing first surfaced in May of 2022.

Moreno said the fact that council members have left public input to regular council meetings – which goes into a wide subject span of city business and contracts – “speaks volumes about where the interests of the city are.”

“And that’s to cover up – to act as if everything was in the past, and to look out for themselves,” Moreno said. “And I appreciate community organizations that are willing to host forums for at least the public to discuss, share their perspectives and be in conversation.”

Moreno drew a contrast between city council members’ public outrage on the 2022 campaign trail during the fallout of last year’s FBI affidavits surfacing versus their behavior after winning office.

He said council members’ unwillingness to even discuss the report “makes us wonder yet again, that if they’re not talking and engaging with us, then who are they talking with? Where are they getting feedback from? Whose reactions and responses are they thinking about?” 

“Because it isn’t the public at large.”


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