“I don’t want to do the minimum.”

My jaw dropped after hearing Anaheim City Councilwoman Norma Campos Kurtz utter these words publicly earlier this month while she questioned city officials on a salary compensation survey earlier during a city council meeting. 

Bare minimum is the best way to describe the reactions of the Anaheim City Council to a scathing city-funded, $1.5 million investigation that raises a myriad of hard questions for city hall, even potential criminal charges stemming from a host of allegations around potentially illegal influence peddling. 

The controversy has already fueled calls for resignations, a team relocation, even recalls. 

[Read: Efforts to Start a Recall of Anaheim City Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava Are Underway]

And yet Anaheim’s city council seemingly keeps trying to avoid discussion about it.

[Read: Proposed Anaheim Reforms Sputter as City Council Disputes Corruption Probe Findings]

The Aug. 15 city council meeting was the first time city officials convened since independent city investigators two weeks earlier dropped a 353-page report alleging a host of improper, potential illegal actions by a host of top officials in and around city hall.

As elected leaders, Anaheim City Council members didn’t meet right away.

Only a couple issued statements. 

They didn’t return reporters’ calls. 

Quite the opposite.

Minimum is their middle name. 

And like an accent mark in Spanish, I would emphasize the mum.

When the city council finally publicly met Aug. 15, not one elected official asked any deep questions about the allegations in the report. 

Councilmembers Jose Diaz and Natalie Rubalalva attacked the report as being inaccurate and full of misspellings. 

Yet neither official asked to publicly question the investigators who wrote the report or jumped into specifics.

Rubalcava did offer a vocal and tense defense of her actions mentioned in the report, disputing that she ever tried to influence city hall officials on behalf of her former employer, the Orange County Business Council, or coordinated with Anaheim First during her campaign for office.

[Read: Was an Anaheim City Hall-Funded Nonprofit Used as a Political Data Mining Operation?]

As usual in Anaheim, there was no opportunity to ask any follow up questions and none of Rubalcava’s city council colleagues asked a word about it in public – even though she raised the issue. 

Yet what is most noteworthy from this month’s public check-in at the city council meeting is how little homework on any of these issues was shown off by city council members in public that night. 

They’ve had a year to prepare for this exam.

FBI officials dropped a rare public affidavit last summer that all but forced the previous city council to rescind the terms of their highly questionable stadium sale. After that, council members ordered up a city investigation to look into the issues. 

This current city council tried to cut funding for the probe along with its scope but relented after a Voice of OC investigative series on the issue and ensuing public outcry.

[Read: Pulling Back the Curtain: What Exactly Are Investigators Looking at in The Anaheim Corruption Probe?]

Once they authorized the city investigation, council members all went quiet saying they would wait until the report was finished. 

[Read: Anaheim City Council Cans Angel Stadium Deal After FBI Corruption Probe Into City Hall]

When they did finally meet, council members spent more time collectively debating mundane issues than ever – an old tactic politicians use to kick tough debates to the wee hours. 

Kurtz asked more questions on the employee compensation survey than I’ve ever heard her say at any council meeting since being appointed earlier this year. 

Way more questions than she asked about the corruption report.

Kurtz questioned more in public the compensation survey than the previous city council asked in public about the stadium sale.

And that night, they took hours to take up what everyone was there to see and hear. 

Now many elected leaders always argue they ask lots of questions in private and that’s why they seem so shy at the dais and say so little. 

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken did agendize a host of basic reform measures that night, which prompted a basic, flat discussion. Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.

But one-by-one, Aitken’s colleagues dismantled every proposed reform.

You would think that anybody doing a lot of homework and questioning in private would have gone public with a lot of questions and proposals that night –- regardless of where you stand on the issue of limiting the reach of special interests at city hall. 

But on issue after issue, it was clear city council members hadn’t much to debate. 

Whether it was the city’s lobbyist ordinance or city manager signing authority limitations, council members repeatedly said they need more information, a deeper look at best practices. 

The Orange County Register editorial board also noticed the response and a lack of reform measures. 

“Council members Jose Diaz and Steve Faessel were full of excuses opposing tougher measures. But no one be-clowned themselves as thoroughly as Rubalcava, who was named in the report. She defended herself, claimed the report had inaccuracies and said the city ‘must resist pressure campaigns and rushed reactions to the results of this investigation,’” wrote the editorial board. 

“Oh please. All the reports in the world won’t change Anaheim’s political culture when the council is dominated by members uninterested in serious change,” the OC Register editorial board wrote.

A year after the scandal broke, most of these people still don’t understand what their own ordinances call for and how that fits into the region. 

That’s a total failure from everyone at city hall, starting with the city’s top administrators and elected officials. 

For those of us who work as university professors, that kind of weak execution would net an F.

A failing grade.

For example, on the question of whether Anaheim should have the county’s highest city manager signing authority, city council members said they needed to know what best practices were across Orange County before taking any kind of action. 

Had anyone checked, they would have read the story by Chapman University students earlier this year as these young journalists worked hard to assess every city across the region and get the city manager’s signing authority, even engaging the International City Managers’ Association in discussion of best practices and included graphics. 

All without one correction.

[Read: The Deepest and Darkest Pockets At Your Local City Hall]

But city council members still act as if they didn’t have enough information. 

On lobby ordinances, there has been a host of discussion over the past year about what constitutes lobbying and how different jurisdictions define it and thus work to regulate it. 

Our own Noah Biesiada took time to dive into the topic offering a sober presentation of the issues involved and how public bodies approach the issue.

Again, with not one correction. 

[Read: Anaheim’s Corruption Investigation Highlights How Lobbyists Across OC Slip Past Registration Rules]

And yet, not one city council member earlier this month could speak to what the standards should be in Anaheim. 


City investigators publish reports of employees being afraid to speak about what they are seeing.

And again, not one elected official even publicly asked City Manager Jim Vanderpool about this.

Much less his role in a secret Chamber of Commerce retreat, where a plan was proposed to keep as much as $100 million out of the city’s general fund once resort bonds are paid off.

[Read: How Disneyland Resort Interests Planned to Withhold Tax Money from Anaheim’s Working Class]

Ditto for campaign finance reform.

No real debate either way. 

One Councilman, Stephen Faessel, who himself seemingly has been called out several times for behind closed door meetings with special interests, did express interest in the appointment of an ethics officer.

But even he didn’t argue for it or even explain how one would fit into Anaheim’s governing reality. 

What seems very clear to those of us who have watched Anaheim City Council meetings for years is that there seems to be lots of coordination at the dais – oftentimes evidenced by the lack of any kind of questioning that goes off the governing script. 

Indeed, that dynamic was on full display Aug. 16, the day after the city council members argued publicly there was no real need for reform or need to do anything about undue influence at city hall. 

That’s when former Mayor Harry Sidhu’s plea deal surfaced, in which federal agents said Sidhu and resort interests would privately hammer out policy ahead of public meetings.

[Read: Ex-Anaheim Mayor Sidhu Agrees to Plead Guilty to Corruption Charges]

The plea deal also highlighted the pattern of key city negotiation documents potentially being leaked to the Angels through their consultant.

And again, over the course of the last year, none of these elected officials have ever asked questions in public about the document leaks or whether all these played a huge role in the questionable lease dealings between city officials and the LA Angels. 

[Read: Santana: Anaheim Stadium Deal Goes Easy on Angels, Hard on Taxpayers]

Today, there are mounting questions about the legality of the process used when Sidhu took office and got back a lease arrangement the team tore up during the previous election cycle. 

In an OC Register opinion piece, Democratic State Senator Tom Umberg is already calling on the city to void the lease.

A year ago, I questioned whether officials should look at the lease arrangement fashioned under Sidhu’s leadership right on the heels of the FBI affidavits that started raising questions about how this majority seemingly coordinated actions. 

[Read: Santana: After Shadowy Stadium Deal Explodes, Do LA Angels Even Have a Valid Lease?]

A hard look at that lease could potentially leave the LA Angels homeless, giving the city control of the stadium and of the huge circle of parking lots surrounding it.


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