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A high-quality video synopsis of Monday morning’s Anaheim City Council meeting, from Voice of OC.
1. Anaheim’s City Council Has Some Good News and Some Bad News For You
(You know how these jokes go.)
The bad news is that the outcome of Monday morning’s Special Meeting of the Anaheim City Council was bad.
The good news is that it was nowhere near as bad as it had looked like it would be when the morning started. (For that, you can largely thank Lucille Kring, whom no one had apparently warned to be unreasonable.)
The bad news is that if you look more closely at the outcome, it’s much worse than it seems at first glance.
The good news is that what is bad about it can be fixed.
The bad news is that the Council is unlikely to fix it.
The good news is that honestly and intellectual consistency should require the two people closest to Former Mayor, Political Patron, and Superlobbyist Curt Pringle – Council Members Jordan Brandman and Kris Murray — to fix the odd contraption that they just built.
(You can figure out the bad news there by yourself.)
The good news is that Councilwomen Kring and Gail Eastman, on the other side of the room, don’t seem to be wedded to a bad outcome.
The bad news is that Kring apparently went to visit Curt Pringle in his office since the meeting, so she may have recently gotten new instructions.
I’m guessing that a lot of this needs to be explained. Let’s start with a review of what was supposed to happen Monday morning — and what portion of it did happen.
2. Lucille Kring Sinks a Free Throw with No Seconds Remaining
It seems that every time we lose something these days at an Anaheim City Council Meeting, we also win something of greater long-term significance.
Take Monday’s “Breakfast Club” Special Meeting. In the long term, the justifications offered by Council members Jordan Brandman and Kris Murray for why this “administrative clean-up” had to pass so quickly will do them more damage than the change in policy will do to Mayor Tom Tait.
Recall that this was a Special Meeting, which is supposed to be called for special business that cannot await the next regular meeting (which in this case is next Tuesday.) These are sometimes called “emergency meetings,” but no emergency was either asserted or evident. Brandman just said that this change in Council policy would happen at a Special meeting because that’s just what he wanted to do — and he didn’t feel like explaining it. (Seriously. I transcribed his statement made on Sept. 24 here. No explanation for calling for a special meeting, perhaps because Pringle told him to keep his mouth shut before he said something stupid.)
If the goal was to have a smaller audience, it didn’t entirely work; about 40 people showed up — which was also the Register’s estimate for the sad little rally of Chamber, Angels, and Catch Restaurant related people before the Sept. 24 Council meeting. (And the Council meeting didn’t even lure people in with free t-shirts!) If the goal was to have a supportive audience, it failed about as badly as possible. Dozens of speakers ranging from OCCORD’s liberal Eric Altman to the Flash Report’s conservative Jon Fleischman were unanimous in condemning the Council’s prospective freezing out the Mayor from setting the agenda.
The philosophical justification that Brandman had been touting leading up to the Council meeting was the virtue of “equal treatment” of all members of the Council: the Mayor and the four Councilmembers that frequently oppose him in divided votes. (Murray — who if the Council were voting on what pizza to order dinner would likely intone robotically that “in the last election voters clearly said they wanted us to get pepperoni” — asserted that the voters cared very much about the Council having an equal right to agendize items as the Mayor; that even one voter had ever had that thought struck me as highly doubtful.) Brandman’s idea of “equal treatment” was this: from now on, everyone would have to get someone to second their request to place an item on the next agenda.
Brandman’s idea of “equality” would be a bit like him telling the foot-or-more-shorter Lucille Kring that “in the interests of equality” neither of them would be able to use a ladder. Getting a second to put an item on the agenda would not be a problem for the four members of the Council in the 4-1 majority. It would potentially be a problem for the one person in the minority — that (coincidentally) being Mayor Tom Tait.
Given that for the past couple of years Anaheim has been engaged in an orgy of giving away City resources to private interests — most of whom have some close tie to former Mayor and political patron of the four members of the Council Majority, Superlobbyist Curt Pringle — preventing the one person independent of Pringle from agendizing any item that might be offensive to Pringle’s interests is pretty obviously a really bad idea.
Now, local government do give away money sometimes, and it’s often perfectly fine. But one real problem for Anaheim has been how the money has been given in several instances. Consider the sneak-attack Gardenwalk Giveaway that inaugurated the Anaheim City Council’s hellish chapter. A benefit — the ability to be reimbursed for a hotel’s Transient Occupancy Tax (“TOT”) was being given to one developer personally (among the many trying to build hotels), but he could sell that benefit to someone else. (In other words, you didn’t know if the developer was really being induced to do something that he wouldn’t otherwise do, or was being used as a “cutout” or middleman who could ultimately steer city resources to someone else — such as, oh, former Mayor, political patron, and Superlobbyist Curt Pringle (or one of his commission-paying clients.)
In the Stadium Lot deal, Arte Moreno — not the Angels team – would personally receive the right to develop the 155-acre parcel surrounding Angels Stadium, as well as to profit from the activity there without sharing it with the city – but he too could sell that right to someone else. This raises the question of whether there may be some sort of side deal taking place that we don’t know about: where the City gives a great deal to Moreno because people want to keep the Angels — but the only reason that Moreno even seeks such a great deal is that he had agreed to sell the development rights to — yes, that’s right — former Mayor, political patron, and Superlobbyist Curt Pringle (or one of his clients.)
Now maybe there’s nothing fishy going on here — but giving out a benefit to some popular recipeint when the benefit is secretly going to be transferred to someone less popular is a pretty standard recipe for enabling fishiness. (I’m just going to use the word “corruption,” which I consider it to be. No one is trying to sell the public on this deal with t-shirts saying “Give Public Money to Curt Pringle’s Clients.”) Four members of the Council have no apparent interest in looking into such arrangements or making sure that no corruption is or will easily be taking place. The fifth member — Mayor Tait — was about to have his ability to put items on the agenda taken away.
This is not – listen to me on this point, Fred Smoller! – merely or even primarily an insult to the Mayor! If Tait couldn’t agendize an item for lack of a second, he could not require outside staff like Charlie Black to be present to answer his questions. He could not exercise oversight over the City projects. He could not, in other words, ensure transparency. Preventing the Mayor from putting anything on the agenda without a second was like spray painting the security camera lenses before a bank robbery. It would be a way of preventing the collection of evidence.
This was such a big problem — and the public meeting was so unnaturally early in the morning — that I decided that it would be best to explain it by putting on a puppet show, with the assistance of Donna Acevedo, for the benefit of any kids that were watching, in the hope that they could perhaps explain it to their parents.
(Note: a duller member of the Pringle intelligensia has suggested that I flipped off Jordan Brandman in the middle of the show. Truth is that (1) I was actually trying very hard not to flip off Brandman — no easy feet given his having been cast in the coveted role of Left Middle Finger, and (2) my raised finger wasn’t pointed at Brandman anyway. Abuse my art if you must, but at least report on it fairly!)
Most of the discussion was aimed at this very dangerous proposal to shut the Mayor out of the process of placing important and challenging items on the agenda. (If he ever wanted to agendize something benign, he could probably easily get a second; all this would do is prevent his putting something controversial on the agenda for discussion when it was most desperately needed.) But a second theme — theretofore unmentioned and seemingly grafted onto the proposal in desperation — also arose from Brandman and the Murrbot: that of “transparency”: that it was important to have items agendized in public because otherwise, um, mumble, mumble, mumble. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to this in just a bit.)
This idea that preventing the Mayor from agendizing items for public discussion was an insult to transparency was so stupid that I couldn’t tell whether it was prompting Mayor Tait to outrage or to a fit of the giggles. He compromised, no doubt wisely, on sort of a slightly sardonic irritation. He did get to use the word “Orwellian” properly, which was a good thing — the soley danger being that we really don’t want Jordan Brandman reading “1984,” and if he does we sure as hell don’t want him taking notes.
So anyway — perhaps edified by the puppet show or mollified by the fact that the transparency argument was still out there to create trouble, Lucille Kring focused on the “equality” principle and hit on a good idea. (It was also obvious, but grasping the obvious put her at the head of the line for the Council majority.) It would make sense to allow every member of the Council, not just the Mayor, to agendize items during Council Communications without needing to have a second! (This is the informal current policy anyway, because Tait is willing to put any Council member’s proposal onto the agenda — making him an automatic “second” — but there’s no real harm in making it explicit.
I was looking at Kring during this exchange — and vice-versa, because I started applauding her motion while continuing to video the meeting, slapping the arm holding the camera with my free hand, which seemed to disturb her until she realized that I was being supportive — but some others were looking at Brandman and Murray. Their initial reaction, I’m told, was apparent anger at Kring for screwing up the plan with her damnable reasonableness — but they soon recovered (a text from Pringle to Murray saying “TAKE THE DEAL!” followed by a quick note passed to Brandman, we might hypothesize?) and Brandman second the motion as a substitute for his own.
Brandman may hope that others don’t question why, if his interest was equality, he didn’t come up with Kring’s far more straightforward notion of “equality” (“no one needs a second”) rather than his unnecessarily complicated Tait-Baiting one (“everyone needs a second”). The answer is pretty obvious: he wanted to block Tait from putting items onto the agenda at all, and that dratted Kring woman had just let him wriggle free. Still, better to pretend that this just somehow hadn’t even occurred to him than to risk losing a vote with Kring and Eastman siding with Tait. Lord knows where that might lead.
And so they let Kring sink the easy shot — and no requirement for “seconds” remained in the proposal.
Anyway, if “equality” didn’t do the trick, there was always “transparency.” That disadvantaged Tait also — but in a much more subtle way.
3. Council Replaces Round Wheels with Square Ones
The other part of what Brandman proposed was that the Mayor — and anyone else on Council — could not put items on the agenda in between meetings. As putting items on an agenda between meetings is a really important thing for a Council to be able to do, this was sort of like voting to take round wheels off of the City’s automotive fleet and replace them with square ones. The City (like the cars) might still run, but their progress would be quite difficult and unnecessarily clunky.
Here’s a secret of local governance – some things that a Council should deal with do come up in between meetings!
In case that puzzles anyone, I’ll give a concrete example. In September, the Council had two meetings: one on the 3rd (the infamous meeting where the MOU drafts and “let Moreno off of the mat” motion were introduced just before the three day Labor Day holiday weekend) and one on the 24th (when Tait earned Brandman’s pre-written wrath and this very Special Meeting by re-agendizing a chance to instruct those negotiating with the Angels as to what the Council wanted them to accomplish in negotiations after benefiting from hearing from the public, which had now had three weeks rather than eight hours to think about it.)
(I know that that was a long sentence, but I don’t want us to forget the Council’s recent games.)
Now, let’s say that something important, something demanding Council discussion and perhaps action, had happened on Sept. 4, the day after that meeting. Under the Council’s policy as of last Sunday, the Mayor could place that item onto the Sept. 24 meeting agenda up until a few days beforehand. The was a privilege that the Mayor had and the Council didn’t — but the Mayor has said that he has never refused to pass on any request from the City Council to the City Manager to be placed on the agenda, so in practice they have had the same power.
(I’m pretending for now that the only way an item gets onto the next meeting’s agenda is through the Mayor’s actions; as you’ll see soon, that’s not true, but the discussion at the meeting seemed predicated on that premise.)
With Brandman’s proposal in place, if something came up on Sept. 4, a member of the Council would not be able to get a person to discuss it until October 8! That’s really not the path towards good governance!
Brandman — one of the group that embraced the surprise appearance of the Angels MOUs on the Sept. 3 agenda the previous Friday night — now complained that that process wasn’t transparent. And transparency is extremely important!
(Keep that remark in mind: that statement – often repeated and re-emphasized on Monday — was his fatal mistake.)
It’s once again important to recognize that the Council is not supposed to discuss items outside of meetings. (They can discuss them with one other person, but a majority of the Council should never have the chance to deliberate on an item, let alone to reach a conclusion, outside of the public eye. This includes a majority discussing items with a third person in common — such as a former Mayor and current Superlobbyist — or with persons who would then communicate messages between them and then get the decision about a public matter back to the Council members.
(Some suspect that the current Council is not following this requirement to the letter.)
That means, as Tait said a few times during the discussion, that this supposed move to ensure transparency — by requiring that requests to agendize items only be made during Council Communications periods at the end of each meeting — actually would not only make things more clunky, but more opaque.
Brandman was having none of this. Tait was the Mayor, Brandman noted! He had the unilateral power to call Special Meetings! And Brandman would never challenge Tait’s ability to call a Special Meeting to discuss anything he wanted to discuss.
This is disingenuous. Brandman knows this — which is I suppose is implicit in calling it “disingenuous.”
It is true that the Mayor can call a Special Meeting anytime he wants about anything he wants. But this is not a viable alternative to his being able to agendize something at a regular meeting, because at a Special Meeting there is no guarantee that the other members of the City Council will show up.
Indeed, that’s what happened last year when Mayor Tait called a special meeting to address the similar “sneak attack” and “giveaway” problems posed by the GardenWalk Giveaway: the three majority members of the Council majority (then Murray, Eastman, and Harry Sidhu) simply didn’t show up. If the Majority doesn’t want to talk about it, the Mayor doesn’t get to talk about it, except at a regular meeting.
Jordan Brandman knows this too. His pretending that he doesn’t realize that his respecting the Mayor’s right to call a special meeting means exactly nothing is simply insulting to those people who don’t know how the system works. Keeping the Mayor from being able to agendize something at a regular meeting is keeping him from being able to talk the rest of the Council about it public – and from talking to staff about it in front of the public — at all.
Now I mentioned above that there’s something missing from this analysis — and from the discussion that took place on Monday. In fact, the wheels on the vehicle of city government are still round, not square. It’s easy for the City to get something put on the agenda if it comes up between meetings: the City Manager does it. Or rather, the City Manager, Marcie Edwards, has the discretion to do it. In a real emergency affecting vital city interests, she surely would do so.
But what if it’s a matter of urgency — or simply a matter of someone not wanting to wait? Then things get interesting.
4. Fixing the “Marcie Edwards” Exception to Transparency
The City Manager is both the superior and the servant of the City Council. You can imagine if President Obama were continually required to attend meetings of Congress and take instructions from them — and could be fired at any time they wished. (On second thought, let’s not imagine that.)
One of the powers that the City Manager has is to set the agenda for City Council meetings. As noted above, this takes care of the problem of, say, dealing with a sudden invasion of hostile tribes from the north (in this case, Fullerton) trying to take over the See’s Candy store on Lemon. (It is in Fullerton’s historic sphere of influence!) As City Manager, Marcie Edwards can agendize whatever she thinks needs discussion or action.
So if a City Council member wants something on the agenda — something uncontroversial like a honor for some citzen or something controversial like trying one more time to get the Council to think about what they want the people negotiating with the Angels to achieve – they can conceivably just ask her to agendize it.
Is this then a complete solution to the problem? Not entirely. Now it becomes a matter of who the City Manager is and isn’t willing to piss off. And, as a rule, a City Manager will not want to piss off whatever faction of the Council is able and willing to fire her. In this case, that means everyone on the Council but Mayor Tom Tait.
If someone from the majority wants something on the agenda and she doesn’t put it on, then she runs the risk of being fired, like former City Attorney Christina Talley, even if (like Talley) her judgment on the matter is sound and superior to the Council’s. But if the Mayor wants something put on the agenda that the majority doesn’t, then if she puts it on the agenda she once again potentially puts her job in danger.
The result is that letting the City Manager have discretion in placing items on the agenda between meetings works simply and solely to the advantage of the majority. So much for “equality.”
What may be less clear is that the City Manager’s discretion also completely guts the extremely important principle – according the Brandman and the Murrbot — of transparency. You see, if an item is placed on the agenda at the urging (or even the strong hinting) of a member of the City Council, no one has to know that it came from them. Under the present rules, the agenda items all just look as if they came from the City Manager herself. The public has no idea how they got there. If Jordan Brandman calls Marcie Edwards and says that he (or maybe he actually does say “Curt Pringle”) wants something on the agenda, we never see his fingerprints.
This might not be so much of a problem — except for the fact that Brandman and Murray just spent much of Monday’s meeting telling us how huge of a problem it was! They were saying that if the public can’t see that a certain Council member wants something put on the agenda — on live TV during the Council Communications part of the meeting — it violated the principle of transparency. Let’s presume for now that that’s true. But if so, how much less transparent is it if Jordan Brandman just calls Marcie Edwards and says “I want you to put this item on the agenda, but I want you to do it under your name, not mine. No one must know that it came from me.“
That can happen RIGHT NOW. Brandman KNOWS THIS. And yet he — and I have little doubt that he did not come up with this himself, no more than the written statement calling for a special meeting that she slogged and stammered through on Sept. 254– pushed through a proposal to keep the Mayor (and in effect only the Mayor) from agendizing items as a matter of transparency. This is the sort of secretive in-group twisted logic that keeps family therapists in business.
Now there’s a fix for that — and it was stated quite nicely in a recent comment by Chairman Vern in exchange with our BigBoxOfRedWhine:
BBoRW: The offer was made by Councilmember Kring to always supply a second to Mayor Tait – that PERSONAL agreement without policy inclusion will not survive the end of either their term, without policy change so what use?
Council member Murray can evidently not extend her thought to encompass a scenario where time is critical (like an EMERGENCY, but how is THAT defined after today’s meeting?) so in that situation, The Mayor would have to wait for posting of an agenda for a FIRST meeting for the REQUEST to agendize, (so then agenda request is ‘PUBLIC’) and only THEN at a SECOND meeting, actually address the issue. HOW IS THAT STREAMLINING? As it stands now, it can be immediately addressed.
If the problem is that Council members have to wait to hear of the agenda posting from the City Manager, then CHANGE the procedure for the City Manager to Immediately contact them upon receiving the request. Whats so hard about THAT?
Vern: And if the problem is the supposed “secrecy” involved in making a last-minute request (Cynthia had earlier complained to me that a last-minute agendizing is often made – and allowed by the mayor – with the public not knowing who put it on the agenda) then MAKE IT THE NEW POLICY that the public has to know who did it! And immediately on the internet and Anaheim TV!
That’s right — you don’t need to take away the ability of Council members (although, again, in actual effect it would only hobble the Mayor) to place items on the Council Agenda; you just have to make them own up to it. They should have to, in effect, “sign” their request. And if transparency is so important, then the City Manager should have to report to the Council — and to the public — who had any communication with her about putting each given item on the agenda. This would probably have to include something like Brandman walking into her office Mafia-like and giving her a broad hint like “I presume that you have decided entirely on your own to put this item on the agenda.”
Any communication between the City Manager and a Council member (or someone dispatched by a Council Member, etc.) about agenda items — whether a written communication, a phone call, a personal visit, or a dead fish sent through the mail — should have to be logged and reported to the Council, and thus to the public, openly at the next meeting as a matter of policy. THEN we will see glorious transparency. And until then, we won’t — at all — because Marcie Edwards can still take directions personally from the people with the ability to fire her.
There is an alternative, though. That alternative is to admit that this sudden focus on “transparency” is a bunch of spew that was cooked up simply to make it harder for the Mayor to put something on the Agenda if the Pringle Ring objects to it. Then they can instead craft an appropriate policy, along the lines of what BigBox and Vern suggest above, which would include tagging items added by Council Members with the names of the person requesting them.
Until that happens, visitors to City Council can come to public comments and ask the Mayor to ask Marci Edwards how each item happened to make it onto the agenda. I might not have thought that this was so desperately worth doing — but then I heard Brandman and Murray talking about the importance of transparency. We can be sure to quote their words on the topic in making those requests.
Like I said at the top — every time we lose something we also win something, and that something we win usually makes the Council Majority look ridiculous.
5. Administrative Clean-Up: Eastman, Fitzgerald, and Angels Every Six Weeks
That was originally to be the end of this story, but I have a few other items before I go.
First, Gail Eastman is complaining again about the audience at the meetings being unruly, doing things like clapping when they agree with a point. Look, the Council Majority and its chosen staff have a monopoly over most of the meeting — and the Majority has shown its willingness to attack those who disagree with them in the audience in both harsh and vague terms at a time that we can’t speak. That’s rude, especially because the attacks are usually composed of politically-tested half-truths and full lies. (Critics of the Council get accused of “misinformation.” I’m willing to debate a tag tram of Eastman and Brandman after every Council meeting if they’re willing to give specifics. Often the “misinformation” means only that we’ve figured out what they’re up to — such as here, where “equality” means “making sure that everyone except the Mayor can raise issues before the Council whenever they want” and “transparency” means “and everyone except the Mayor can do so without leaving fingerprints.”
My tentative sense of Eastman is that she’s the least involved in actually communicating with Pringle, so maybe she simply doesn’t know what her colleagues are doing. Maybe she can ask them.
The other thing that Eastman should understand is that through these deals, private parties are ending up with large amounts of money that ought to rightly belong to the people of Anaheim. People are supposed to be pissed off about that sort of thing. That’s healthy. Etiquette has its importance, but its importance fades when someone is trying to shut you up while stealing you blind.
Second, the Pringle Ring (through their carny Matt Cunningham, recently lying to you on these very pages about his identity) has decided that their next attack is to try to hang the support of the sometimes foul-mouthed and Archie-Bunker-like public comments speaker William Fitzgerald around the Mayor’s neck. (This is a pretty gutsy move for a group that embraces the disgusting and malicious ravings of James Robert Reade.) Believe it or not, when Kris Murray appeared on PBS Sunday night debating Tom Tait, she was programmed to spend much of her time going after Tait for allowing Fitzgerald to offer what he appeared to think was a nuanced anti-Semitic screed against Brandman that ended up with an anti-gay slur.
It drives me nuts when Fitzgerald does this sort of thing. I’ve told him that to his face. I understand why he does it: I’ll order those reasons from the most offensive to the admirable if accomplished by other means. He does this do to a combination of some foundation of socialization in the generation where ethnic analysis and ethnic jokes were both accepted and commonplace; a nine-year-old boy’s desire to shock adults with curse words; a way of resisting the general tendency of the Council to stifle dissent; and a way to call larger public attention to the very real atrocities being committed by the Council. He doesn’t seem to have gotten through his head how counter-productive this sort of thing is — and the good thing about the Murrbot’s making him the issue as a way to blunt criticism of the Pringle Ring is that maybe it will finally get through to him and he’ll stop.
However, let’s be real: Fitzgerald is not Murray’s quarry here; it’s Tait. She wants to hang Fitzgerald’s anti-Semitism and homophobia around Tait’s neck — and that’s vicious, unfair, and wrong.
The main reason for this is that Tait really has no ability to shut Fitzgerald up — and Fitzgerald, who has in the past been represented by the ACLU, knows it. Tait can impede him to a degree — and he did, interrupting him, criticizing him, and asking him to stop. But he can’t have him arrested and removed from the room for such slurs; he can’t continue to bang his gavel so that Fitzgerald cannot proceed with his comments. (A court would rightly consider that to be censorship.) So, unless he and the rest of the Council want to walk out on Fitzgerald, he has to sit there and take it — just as Donna Acevedo and Theresa Smith have to sit there and take it while James Robert Reade goes on one of his vicious tirades against them and their sons who were shot to death by Anaheim Police. It’s free speech. Unless Fitzgerald crosses a legal line (such as advocating violence then and there), he gets his three minutes.
Tait knows this. Murray knows it too — but is pretending not to. I just have this to say: as a Jew, while I am offended by a relatively powerless guy blaming the Holocaust on “bad Jews” like Brandman, we’re used to that sort of thing. For powerful people who are trying to rip off the City to wrap themselves in the cloak of fighting anti-Semitism as a means of trying to tarnish a Mayor who can’t control someone — in this case a former opponent for Mayor, whom Tait in the past has sued, who agrees with him on these good government issues — is something more unusual, and given their greater power is even more disturbing. Thanks for caring about anti-Semitism, Council member Murray — but please don’t politicize it for your own purposes.