It was another long Anaheim City Council meeting, dragging on until past midnight – and even then the council was only able to move through a fraction of the discussion items on the agenda. The eyes of the Tait majority are bigger than its agenda stomach.
At least on hour was consumed in wrangling over District 1 Councilwomen Denise Barnes request to create a new, full-time city position for Mayor Tom Tait’s part-time policy advisor, Mishal Montgomery, a polarizing figure in City Hall. Montgomery has worked for the city since 2003, first as Mayor Curt Pringle’s policy aide and then with Tait. Montgomery recruited Barnes to run for council, worked with mixed success to line up endorsements for her among West Anaheim activists, and generally served as her political mentor.
Last month, the new council majority restored funding for Montgomery’s position to its pre-2012 level (which was about $40,000 more than councilmembers received for their policy aide budgets) and moved her from part-time to full-time (30 to 40 hours per week). That action put her at $111,450 in compensation. Since this necessitated inventing a brand-new job classification, Barnes directed staff to return with the new position.
Barnes read a statement to introduce her item but remained silent for the rest of the debate, while Tait vocally championed what was ostensibly Barnes’ idea. The mayor even had a slide ready making the apples-to-oranges comparison between the part-time Mayor of Anaheim’s one policy aide versus the multiple policy aides enjoyed by the full-time, strong-mayors of other, much larger California cities. At one point, District 5 Councilman Steve Faessel asked Mayor Tait if he was having Barnes advance this issue on his behalf (the mayor didn’t answer).
Much of the initial wrangling over the new, grandly-titled “Chief Policy Advisor to the Mayor” slot stemmed from a confusing staff report. A layman reading it would have had difficulty discerning how much Montgomery would be making in her new job – not least due to seriously mistaken budget figures.
There was intense debate over how much Montgomery would be making as of July 1: total compensation of up to $165,000 (inclusive of salary, sick and vacation pay, pension and medical benefits).
Tait’s pitch was basically that he should have a full-time policy aide and that Montgomery has been making the same $47-per-hour rate for years. He pointed out she doesn’t use the city’s medical insurance (her husband is a public school teacher and presumably has them). Tait also contended that as “mayor of a city of 350,000” he needs a “full-time person” at City Hall to make “decisions for me” when he was absent. Unmentioned was the fact that the office of mayor doesn’t have responsibility for running the city – that belongs to the city manager.
Other members of the council, led by Kris Murray, objected to the skyrocketing compensation and took issue with Tait comparing the Anaheim mayor with those of bigger cities where it is a full-time executive position.
District 5 Councilmenber Lucille Kring tried turning the new district-based system back on districting advocate Tait, saying his need for a full-time assistant position was lessened because councilmembers would collectively be tending more closely to the needs of their constituents.
District 3 Councilman Jose F. Moreno followed the mayor’s general its-not-that-much-more-money tack. After staff noted the compensation range for Montgomery’s new position is 23% higher than market rate for comparable positions in other cities, Moreno waved it off: “Yeah, maybe it’s 23 percent above the market [rate] but it’s one person doing the job of seven.” It remains unclear which seven people’s jobs she is doing.
While long and bitter, the debate was ultimately academic because Mayor Tait had four votes to create a new, full-time, highly compensated job for his loyal assistant. A motion by Murray to continue the item failed 4-3 (Murray, Kring and Faessel voting to continue) and the new position was approved 5-2 (Murray and Kring opposed).
Montgomery is city employee with a pension, not an independent contractor. The new position represents a significant increase in pay, and in turn a significant increase in her pension as she closes in on the 20-year mark with Anaheim.