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1. Suppressing Democracy is Expensive!
We may have to start calling the Anaheim City Council’s stubborn refusal to agree to have real district elections by the name “Murray’s Folly.” The bill for the decision is coming due — and it’s just dumb luck that we found out about it at all.
The City of Anaheim spent $612,000 in the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30, just for outside legal counsel in the ACLU case, Moreno v. City of Anaheim. (That’s Dr. Jose Moreno, not Arte.) Obviously, other costs — such as for “inside counsel” in the City Attorney’s office — were also incurred without being itemized on the bill.
While the report of the bills coming due in the quixotic fight against democracy was not the most significant action from last night’s Anaheim Council meeting –that would probably be new policies regarding the city’s homeless — stepped up ticketing for camping, a prohibition of tents in parks at any time of day or night, and a substantial-sounding program of increasing the Fullerton Armory’s ability to house Anaheim’s homeless — it was arguably the most striking.
Kris Murray, Gail Eastman, and Lucille Kring’s decision to fight against the ability of those in Anaheim’s poorer communities to choose who will represent them on the City Council now has at least a partial price tag. The bad news is that the case is just now heating up. Pulitzer Prize-deserving journalist Adam Elmahrek of the Voice of OC published a must-read story yesterday about the depositions of city officials that will be taking place prior to the March 2014 trial. That’s when the City starts to bleed significant money. (Of course, the big budgetary whack comes when the City loses the case — and has to pay the ACLU’s legal fees. But hey, it’s taxpayer’s money, not Kris Murray’s personally!)
We came very close last night to not even knowing about this. Here’s how it happened. Many of you will want to skip this section.
2. Warning: Stultifying Technical Details — Skip Unless You are Psychologically Prepared
Within the “consent calendar” of the agenda — items uncontroversial enough to be approved without public discussion — was a $725,000 appropriation to the City Attorney’s office that covered expenses from the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Brian Chuchua, in the audience got up and asked, more or less, “what’s this and why wasn’t it in the original budget?” Your humble correspondent chimed in with, to paraphrase, “and when did you discover that it would be needed, and does it deal with anything like the baseball stadium negotiations, and if so why hasn’t it come out before now?”
Gail Eastman, to her credit, took the item off of the consent calendar so that we could see that nothing improper was going on. This appropriation was only showing up now because it covered for outside counsel for litigation involving the City. The City can’t plan such for costs ahead of time because they (usually) don’t know what litigation will take place. So, she asked that the Staff Report be referenced so that Chuchua and I (and anyone else interested) could understand what was going on. The Staff Recommendation (warning: PDF) was:
That the City Council, by Motion, amend the FY 2012/13 Budget by increasing appropriations in the City Attorney’s Office by $725,000.
One of the steps in closing the financial records for FY 2012/13 is to compare departmental expenditures to appropriations. Due to several cases that required outside legal services, the City Attorney’s Office exceeded their budget by $725,000. This increase was included in the projections for FY 2012/13 and and will not impact the 5-year plan. While the FY 2012/13 actuals are not finalized, it appears that we will end the year better than anticipated in the General Fund. A more complete analysis of the City’s year-end fiscal status will be provided at the mid-year budget City Council workshop anticipated in February 2014.
3. It Is Safe for Everyone to Begin Reading Again
So, for those who skipped the above, we learned that money spent on contracting out legal services on several lawsuits had put the City Attorney’s Office $725,000 over budget. That looked like it would be about all of the explanation we would get until Mayor Tom Tait asked whether it was permissible (given that these had been “closed session” items) for the Council (and audience) to get a detailed itemization of what amount of money had been spent on what case.
Maybe I’m imagining it, but it seemed to me that City Attorney Michael Houston responded to this with a combination of relief and joy. Yes, he said, it would be proper to ask for an itemization of expenses. (This may have been in part because doing so would demonstrate that the problem was not mismanagement of his department.) Most of the work was for the Moreno litigation — fighting the ACLU’s demand for voting within districts — costing $612,000. An additional $250,000 went to what was described as “proactive” litigation on medical marijuana dispensaries, a topic on which Vern has written. From this is subtracted a net $137,000 that had been budgeted for, but not spent in, other cases, yielding the $725,000. And, again, that doesn’t count any expenses from July 1, 2013 forward. Remember that huge argument in a motion that dashed the City’s hopes for a quick dismissal of the case? That didn’t happen until the end of July — it’s part of next year’s bill!
I remain highly irked at Houston’s allowing the City Council to apparently have no idea of the significance of the actions that they took — and didn’t take — regarding the MOUs with the Angels and Arte Moreno. But I’ve heard from longtime friends of his that he really is a good egg — as may well be so. (I’ve heard the same about City Manager Marcie Edwards and other staff: that they’re good people just doing their jobs as directed.) So I’m going to luxuriate in the pleasant speculation that Houston’s pouncing on the Mayor’s question for specification and dropping this $612,000 bombshell on us may have been, in his own small way, a cry for help.
SETTLE THIS CASE! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SETTLE THIS CASE! WE’RE GOING TO LOSE BIG! IT WILL BE WILDLY EXPENSIVE FOR THE CITY! THE CASE LAW IS CLEAR! WE NEED TO CUT OUR LOSSES! NOT TO SETTLE IT NOW IS MADNESS! MADNESS!!!
But, of course, that’s just my fantasy. It’s what I’d like to believe. Houston’s clearly a smart guy and he probably knows that the above is true, and he knows that he can’t tell the Council that outside of a closed session. But maybe, just maybe, divulging the price tag is his way of letting the public know what a humongous sinkhole the Moreno suit is going to turn out to be — and for nothing, because right now the City could settle for much less in fees than it will owe by April. (The cost of districting is the same whether it’s fake “candidate residency” districts or real “voter residency” districts, so that’s a wash.) He’s there to protect the city, not push an ideology; I can’t imagine not wanting to settle in his situation.
But it’s not clear that Murray — big on ideology, not big on protecting public money — will listen. So unless either Kring or Eastman decide that they want to avoid Murray’s Folly becoming the issue that sinks them next fall — in which case that person could join Tait and Brandman (presuming that Brandman is allowed to maintain his pro-districting position) and direct Houston to settle — we’re going to see a trial next March 17.
4. Why We May Not See a Trial on March 17
As I said, you have to read Adam’s article linked above. Here’s a very good section for you to read — especially if you are a Councilwoman about to be dragged down by Murray’s “Captain Ahab” into the dark and salty ocean.
Vakili said the ACLU plans on deposing all five council members, and possibly former council members.
Former Mayor Curt Pringle – an influential lobbyist whose clients include major businesses like Disneyland and a hotel developer that received a controversial $158-million tax subsidy – “certainly has the kind of knowledge we’d be interested in asking about,” Vakili said.
Councilwoman Gail Eastman was scheduled for a deposition on Wednesday, but that has been postponed to a date uncertain, Vakili said. The first testimony – Councilwoman Lucille Kring – is scheduled for Oct. 29, he said.
There are still unanswered questions about the depositions. According to Vakili and plaintiff Jose Moreno, attorneys with the city and ACLU are negotiating over how far reaching the questioning can be.
“The other side may want to protect their city council members from certain types of questions,” Vakili said. “None of that’s been resolved.”
Here’s the nightmare scenario for Kring and Eastman: the ACLU deposes both of them — and, if the Voice of OC gets its way, with Adam Elmahrek watching. (The Orange Juice Blog might want to send its own legal affairs correspondent to the depositions as well, if the Voice does pry open the proceedings. I love seeing a good deposition.) Then, after their questioning is all over the public record, but before Murray and Pringle are deposed — suddenly the City settles, sparing the two major forces behind the fight against real districting from an unpleasant day of unpleasant questions.
Would the Pringle Ring really do that to them? Well, if Murray learns what they said in testimony and decides that she doesn’t want to go through that vivisection less than a year before she runs for re-election, then Murray could join Tait and Brandman and order settlement even without either of their votes. Got to serve the voter’s interests, after all. And she and Pringle can blame it on Kring and/or Eastman having done a bad job in the depos.
Politics can be a nasty business, Councilwomen. Litigation can be even worse. Madness. Madness!