Anaheim City Council members and City Manager Jim Vanderpool will have to publicly post online who they’re meeting with next year as part of new policy in the wake of one of the largest corruption scandals in Orange County history.
The Fall of Reform
Corruption probes in Anaheim are triggering tough ethics discussions across OC and Southern California. Will reform follow?
Last Tuesday, city council members voted unanimously to implement a policy that will require them to proactively post their calendar online listing meetings with lobbyists, developers, union representatives as well as residents starting in January 2024.
During the Nov. 7 meeting, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said the policy will be a helpful tool to create transparency and accountability.
“This isn’t meant to be a gotcha circumstance for the city manager’s office or council colleagues,” she said. “Developing a formal and automated system where we’re all reporting in the same way and fashion just removes any type of accusations of malfeasance.”
Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s Board of Directors.
Disclosure exceptions will be made for internal staff meetings including with retained consultants and vendors, meetings on personnel issues as well as with residents who fear retaliation if their meeting goes public.
The policy comes after FBI agents in sworn affidavits last year and independent investigators, with decades of law enforcement experience, in a 353-page report concluded the same thing: Anaheim City Hall is essentially controlled by Disneyland resort interests and lobbyists.
Federal agents also say pay-to-play politics were involved in the now canned Angel Stadium land alleging former Mayor Harry Sidhu tried to get a $1 million in campaign support from the ball club to ram the deal through.
Sidhu pleaded guilty to public corruption charges in September.
The Fall of Reform
The new calendar policy is among a host of reform proposals Anaheim City Council members are expected to tackle this fall in the wake of corruption.
For Disneyland resort-backed City Council members like Natalie Meeks and Jose Diaz, the calendar policy was one of the best reforms they could enact as opposed to other reform policies like a tighter lobbyist registration policy.
“This is transparency,” Diaz said during the Nov. 7 meeting. “Other stuff out there that is so complicated that you need an army of lawyers to interpret what it says that’s not transparency.”
Meeks said the calendar policy makes lobbyist disclosures redundant.
“I want to do the calendar, and make it simple and make it clear and make it comprehensive. And all the other complex stuff, I think, is redundant and potentially conflicting,” she said.
Other cities in Orange County like Irvine and Orange are looking at tightening lobbyist regulations and providing great transparency on who influences city hall after independent investigators released a 353-page corruption report at the end of July.
The report paints a picture of loose oversight on lobbyists, developer favoritism, influence peddling by Disneyland Resort interests through the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and a disregard for California’s open meeting and public record laws.
Will The Calendars Work?
One city official has already been posting their calendar online:
It’s something she highlighted in State of the City in May – about a year since the FBI affidavits surfaced.
To view Aitken’s meeting calendar, click here.
However, the mayor’s calendar didn’t list any meetings with Angel President John Carpino despite public record requests by the Voice of OC and the Anaheim Investigator blog that show text messages between the two planning meetings this year.
When asked earlier this year if she reported a planned meeting with Carpino on her public calendar, Aitken said the meeting was disclosed in a public records request.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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