Last week, while Anaheim residents shopped, wrapped presents and were otherwise distracted preparing for Christmas Day, Mayor Tom Tait’s the newly-ensconced council majority plowed through a long list of major policy shifts they had piled onto the agenda with a few days notice.
Mayor Tait employed the symbolism of dais to emphasize the new order. Rather than seating the councilmembers in numerical order according to their district number, he placed District 3 Councilman Jose F. Moreno to his right, District 1 Councilwoman Denise Barnes to his left, Councilman James Vanderbilt to her left, with Councilmembers Kris Murray, Lucille Kring (District 4) and Steve Faessel (District 5) on the fringes of the dais.
The council meeting dragged on until past 1:00 a.m. as the council took up urgent matters as when the mayor can place something on the council agenda, making the mayor’s assistant a full-time job bundled with a 56% pay increase to $111,000, and launching a crypto-Sanctuary City initiative.
Agenda Power, Pay Hike For Mayoral Aide and Chamber Contract
Mayor Tait brushed aside criticisms that he and his allies were engaged in the same high-handed behavior of which they had accused the old council majority. It took a few hours to get to the first item on the discussion calendar: giving the mayor’s ability to place items on upcoming council agendas between council meetings. Given the thick fog of drama in which the mayor and his allies have enshrouded this issue, some background is in order. While previous mayors had informally exercised this power on occasion, it was only formalized after Tom Tait assumed the office. As the conflict between the mayor and the council majority deepened, the majority acted to restore the mayor’s formal agendizing power to equal footing with the rest of the city council – in front of the public during the council comments period of council meetings. That act – and the manner in which it was done – have been a sore spot ever since.
Last week, Mayor Tait termed this formal extra-conciliar agendizing power as something that was “take from me (not from the office) and said restoring it was “about righting a wrong.” The rhetoric expended on this matter would lead one to believe the machinery of city government had been undermined. The reality is it is a procedural issue for which valid arguments can be made either way and upon which reasonable people can disagree. Elevating it to a moral issue is a stretch.
Although there was a very lengthy back-and-forth discussion, the outcome was never in doubt and the motion passed.
Next up was a $40,000 boost in pay for Mishal Montgomery, who has been Mayor Tait’s council aide since he took office, and was Mayor Curt Pringle’s council aide during his eight years in office. This matter had been placed on the agenda by newly-elected District 1 Councilwoman Denise Barnes; Montgomery recruited Barnes to run and was heavily involved in her campaign. Barnes’ move drew flack from West Anaheim activists to who thought District 1 needs deserved higher priority than how much the mayor’s assistant was being paid.
Again, there was lengthy discussion – during which both Councilmembers Kris Murray and Lucille Kring the reason the mayor exhausted his council aide budget before the end of the fiscal year is Montgomery is a city employee with a pension and benefits; the aides to Murray, Kring and other councilmembers are independent contractors.
Council aides are part-time positions; the budget for each position automatically ratchets up each year and currently stands at $71,000. Barnes moved to create an entirely new full-time position of assistant to the mayor salaried at $111.000 a year. Mayor Tait said the position should really be called “chief of staff;” he acknowledged he only had a staff of one but said he thinks the mayor’s office should have “several” full-time employees.
Barnes’ motion was adopted 5-2.
The next item was the city’s sponsorship agreement with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, under which the city is a participating sponsors in a few events such as the Anaheim Job Fair. This was thinly veiled political payback by the mayor against the Chamber, which has disagreed with Tait’s stances on major issues like the Hotel Incentive Policy and negotiations with the Angels.
Murray and Kring mounted a valiant but doomed defense of the agreement, which the council voted to let expire without renewal.
Hotel Incentive Policy, Crypto-Sanctuary City Status
If any issue has defined Tait’s quest for control of the council, it is the city’s long-standing policy of utilizing partial Transient Occupancy Tax revenue turn-backs to attract luxury hotel development. The mayor’s stark reaction to the 2012 GardenWalk agreement permanently fracture a close alliance with his council colleagues, and led to often strange alliances in four-year effort to tilt the council majority in his favor.
Actually, both Tait and Kring asked to have repealing the Hotel Incentive Policy placed on the agenda; Kring’s reason was it had served it already served its purpose, with five 4-Diamond hotels coming to the Resort District.
Again, the outcome was never in doubt and the repeal passed unopposed. There was enthusiastic talk among the mayor’s amen corner of going after the TOT incentive agreements approved earlier this year with Disney and the Wincome Group. However, that appears unlikely as it would expose the city to litigation it would almost certainly lose.
Next up was District 3 Councilman Jose Moreno’s request for the formation of a mayoral task force to make Anaheim a “Welcoming City.” As noted in OC Daily, this is essentially Sanctuary City-Lite – there’s no meaningful distinction between the two.
Moreno has been cagey about offering specifics about this initiative. He skillfully parried several attempts by both Murray and Kring to elicit specifics with long explanations which explained nothing. When Murray requested that each coiuncilmember be allowed an appointment to the task force, Moreno and Tait both politely but firmly refused. It was obvious this had been cooked up between them some time ago and they’re determined to keep control of it – hence the “mayoral” task force.
Councilwoman Barnes asked Moreno directly whether this was Sanctuary City status in disguise; Moreno cautioned her against being alarmed by “red flags.”
Notwithstanding his intentional vagueness, Moreno several times brought the discussion back to the impending inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. He described as “exciting” demands by the radical advocacy group OCCORD that the mayoral task force recommend no deportations of any illegal immigrant in Anaheim and that the city welcome “anybody from any part of the world without any questions.”
Taken together with Moreno’s strong recent endorsement of Sanctuary City status for Anaheim and his rhetorical record on illegal immigration, the reasonable conclusion is this mayoral task force is designed as a more politically palatable, PR-friendly version.
When the vote was called, it only garnered four votes – Tait, Moreno, Vanderbilt and Faessel – with Murray and Kring abstaining and Barnes voting no.
Streetcar, Mayor Pro Tem, Board and Commissions, Interim City Attorney
Item 45 was requested by Barnes to “provide staff direction on a request to discontinue the Anaheim Street Car Project.” It’s only a request because the project is entirely in the hands of the Orange County Transportation Authority. However, it’s certainly an obstacle to its completion if the city council of the city for which it is proposed switches from support to opposition.
This passed on a vote of 5-2, with Murray and Kring opposed.
It was past midnight when the annual appointment of the Mayor Pro Tem was discharged without controversy. Councilman Faessel nominated Vanderbilt to succeed Kring in the position, which the council approved unanimously.
City Boards, Commissions and Regional Appointments
In September, Mayor Tait and then-Councilman Jordan Brandman expressed their desire to re-structuring city boards and commissions to reflect the shift to district elections, and it was assumed Tait agendized this item for that reason.
That assumption proved correct, as the mayor stated his desire to make city boards and commissions district-based, with each councilmember controlling the appointment for his or her district. However, he acceded to continue this radical change at the request of Kring, who cited the late hour.
Kring did ask for a decision on re-appointing her to the OC Sanitation District. She noted she was up for chairmanship of this giant special district – the first women in line for OCSD leadership since former Anaheim Councilwoman Shirley McCracken. However, since that vote was scheduled to take place prior to the next council meeting in January, Kring requested resolution of her appointment that evening, per Tait’s agenda item.
After some discussion, the new majority decline Kring’s request and continued the entire item to January.
The final item of apparently overriding importance was an item requested by Mayor Tait a week earlier, which was to fire Arturo Fierro from the job to which the council had appointed him five weeks earlier: Interim City Attorney.
Tait offered no reason other than he thought the appointment should have been made by the “new district-based council.” This is an argument Tait advanced on several different issues in the months before the November election.
Councilman Murray ably rebutted that sophistry by asking the mayor “at which point is the city council no longer responsible for governing? Is it one month [before the election]? Two months? Six months? At one point will you stop doing your duties for the residents of Anaheim because there’s a new election on the horizon? Or do you govern up until midnight of the last day you were elected to serve?”
Her query went unanswered. It will be interesting to see if the mayor follows his own direction and goes into self-imposed lame-duck status months before his term ends.
Murray also pointed out the mayor could have requested suspension of the interim city attorney search at any time, but never did so.
Kring noted that despite the months-long duration of the search process, the recruiter had difficulty attracting a lot of applicants due to the toxic council dynamic.
Rather than giving Fierro more than 5 weeks to prove himself by continuing the month-to-month contract, the council voted 5-2 give him the heave-ho. It would be enlightening for any of those five councilmembers to explain how they believe this decision will enhance Anaheim’s ability to attract top-notch applicants for the permanent position.
All in all, there were few surprises. There were policies Mayor Tait wanted to end, others he wanted to advance, and others his allies wanted to push. And he had the votes to do it. As it has ever been, elections have consequences.