Big changes look to be coming to Anaheim City Hall – impacting council meetings and potentially city business contracts – immediately following Mayor Harry Sidhu’s resignation after revelations of an FBI corruption probe into his city hall dealings.
Council members Jose Moreno and Avelino Valencia are calling for a full accounting of any contracts the city has with organizations and people caught up in the FBI probe, including the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.
Moreno was able to schedule a campaign finance reform discussion for the city council’s next meeting, which could aso ban campaign contributions from any vendor the city contracted with.
“We must recognize that this looming cloud of doubt and public betrayal does not confine solely to the mayor. It has been the worst kept secret in Anaheim,” Moreno said, referencing special interests groups like the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.
He’s also looking to make city council members recuse themselves on votes if they impact donors who spent $250 or more on their campaigns.
[Read: FBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]
At last week’s City Council meeting, Moreno called to end all contracts with the chamber – including its affiliate organizations like Anaheim First.
Valencia is now calling for a full audit of contracts from organizations like the chamber and hinted at ending some of them.
“If Harry Sidhu was willing to undermine our taxpayers by approving a bad stadium deal in exchange for campaign contributions and other political gains, I have to ask myself what other contracts would be void,” Valencia said, adding there needs to be an audit of any city contracts with Sidhu’s campaign donors.
In an FBI criminal complaint, special agent Brian Adkins detailed how a “a specific covert group of individuals” held significant influence over Anaheim’s local government.
According to the complaint, the covert group “met in person to discuss strategy surrounding several matters within Anaheim — matters that were often pending, or soon to be pending, before the Anaheim City Council.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, O’Neil admitted to attending a meeting on Dec. 2, 2020 – which was called out by the FBI.
“Specific to the December 2, 2020 meeting referenced – I attended,” he said, adding that he left early and that Councilman Stephen Faessel was there as well.
Faessel, who spoke after O’Neil, stayed silent on his participation in what FBI officials described as a “retreat.”
They weren’t the only ones there.
Last week, City Manager Jim Vanderpool admitted to attending one of the invite only “retreats” in a statement to the Voice of OC – questioning the way FBI agents described the meetings.
[Read: ‘Family Members Only’: Anaheim’s City Manager Admits He Was At Private Briefing Called Out By FBI]
Voice of OC also reached out to city council members questioning if they attended the invite-only meetings but O’Neil, Faessel and Gloria Ma’ae did not respond.
Councilmembers Moreno, Valencia and Jose Diaz denied attending those meetings.
During Tuesday’s meeting, O’Neil said he’s Elected Official 3 detailed in the FBI corruption affidavit filed in former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament’s mortgage fraud complaint.
Adkins, the FBI agent, said he recorded a phone call between Ament and an unnamed political consultant in late November 2020, which indicates O’Neil is a team player in what the FBI describes as a “cadre” of special interest groups who run the city.
“[Elected Official 3] may do a little bit of self promoting, but at the end of the day, he’s going to be loyal to the team, [Elected Official 4] the same. Almost to the point, [Elected Official 4], we tell [Elected Official 4], we got you reelected, we expect you to be a loyal member of the team,” reads the affidavit in Ament’s criminal complaint.
O’Neil also said he’s returned some campaign contributions from entities like the chamber.
“I have returned campaign contributions I received from the entities and associated individuals referenced in the affidavit. I will continue to support actions that help our city move past this,” O’Neil said.
Valencia also said he gave some contributions back when the FBI investigation came to light after a resident called him out during public comments.
Meanwhile, changes to the meetings are coming, which would allow more policy discussions from minority council members.
Sidhu, almost immediately becoming mayor, spearheaded big changes to Anaheim’s agenda-setting requirements in January 2019 – which mandated that two other city council members support a colleague’s agenda proposal before it gets scheduled.
Critics and Anaheim council minority members Jose Moreno and former Councilwoman Denise Barnes told Voice of OC that the change was intended to silence any policy proposals they had, which included things like stadium discussions and rent control to protect seniors facing rent hikes at a mobile home park.
[Read: Anaheim Mayor Sidhu, Backed By Council Majority, Makes Sweeping Changes to Public Meetings]
As Tuesday’s City Council meeting kicked off, Councilman Trevor O’Neil – who’s running the meetings because he’s the mayor pro tempore – said he wants to eliminate the need for the additional support.
O’Neil said he’s looking at “eliminating the need for support of two other council members in order to agendize” an item.
Yet O’Neil was one of the Sidhu-led council majority members who voted for the 2019 changes.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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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