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CATER (Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a 501c4 non-profit) was in court last week.
It’s OK, we weren’t hauled in there, we wanted to be there! We were there to discuss a complaint that we had filed in OC Superior Court on December 26, 2013. That complaint was replaced by a First Amended Complaint filed that morning, June 26, 2014.
The amended complaint stated that Anaheim had hidden critical information from the public last summer as it took up the amendment and renewal of the Stadium lease. The City failed to release for public review the pivotal document on which the Council based its 4-1 decision to approve an outline of initial deal points for the Stadium and Stadium District, prior to its vote. It failed even to announce the presence of a Consultant from the company drafting the report, who was flown into town from St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 3, at taxpayer expense, to answer questions! The contract for the report itself even contained specific language intended to slant its content to create a predetermined outcome.
Further, CATER has also documented the City’s efforts to ensure that the issue was introduced, and the critical votes taken, specifically at a meeting just after Labor Day weekend – the first such meeting scheduled to immediately follow a holiday weekend in over a dozen years! This “coincidence” throttled public participation by catching residents largely unaware and off guard.
Even after that meeting, the City’s efforts continued to prevent disclosure of politically uncomfortable information. In one case, City Staff appear to have had knowledge of a violation of the Political Reform Act’s Conflict of Interest laws — but did nothing about it.
In at least one case that CATER has documented, a violation of Conflict of Interest laws became known to the head of the City’s Convention, Sports, and Entertainment division Tom Morton, and yet no action appears to have been taken. Instead, Morton accepted the incredible excuse offered by the clearly conflicted vendor, despite records in his possession (stamped by City) that refute the company’s claims!
The compromised credibility of the report central to the Council’s decision-making process has not been publicly ordered replaced by a more reliable source, nor has Morton’s dereliction of duty ever been publicly addressed. Indeed, during the most recent City Council meeting, Gail Eastman’s reaction to public information regarding lack of records to verify Arte Moreno’s repair and maintenance for his rent-free tenancy … was to dismiss the claim without consideration, and invite Morton to refute the claim with fictionalized theories clearly made up on the spot. The exchange simply hammered home a familiar theme:
- Tom Morton is clearly not working in the interests of the public he was hired to serve, as it’s his job to know whether the tenant he’s tasked with overseeing has indeed made the repairs and maintenance investments outlined in his contract.
- It’s equally as clear that four of Anaheim’s five elected leaders simply don’t care whether staff is doing a credible job of due diligence. Apparently either they desire a specific outcome for their own ambitions, or they fail to grasp the import of their own failure to apply deductive reasoning to issues before them. Their decision-making process, during the meetings, is where the general public has its opportunity to influence the policies adopted by its government. If there’s no apparent decision-making process, there’s no real opportunity for public input.
These multiple layers of deliberate and coordinated obfuscation served to “taint” the decisions of the Anaheim City Council on Sept. 3, 2013, when leaders approved a set of MOUs (“memoranda of understanding”) discussing the possible future of Angel Stadium and the surrounding real estate owned by taxpayers. Under State law, these deliberate acts, intended to impede public participation and access to Open Meetings, violated not just statutes but the Constitutional rights of Anaheim’s citizens under Prop 59 and the newly enacted Prop 42.
In other words, these decisions were illegal. CATER is asking the City to do it over the right way — this time properly providing the public in advance with the relevant facts regarding the proposed deal, which are supposed to be guiding the Council’s deliberation, and facilitating rather than blocking citizen participation. You can read the PDF of our lawsuit here. [Caution: It's 125 pages, although we think it might be one of the more eye-opening lawsuits you've read in a while!]
OUR REQUEST FOR RELIEF
Let’s be clear about what “suing the City” means. CATER is focused on obtaining court orders requiring the City to follow the law. We’re not seeking monetary damages. We as taxpayers – more, apparently, than the City itself – care about maintaining the long-term health of the City’s General Fund. We want the City’s money available for libraries and parks, first responders, and fulfillment of promises made to its employees. All that CATER seeks from the City is our legal fees and costs, to compensate us for our time, effort, and expertise as we have to step in to do what the City Council and Staff should have done itself, but didn’t.
Litigation was never our first resort. Wanting to give the City the chance to avoid costly litigation, we tried playing nice — first issuing a “cure and correct” letter, telling the City Attorney about the “mistake” made by “overlooking” the release of documents, and asking that they please fix it. They aggressively refused. In fact, City Attorney Houston promised to respond to us “vigorously and aggressively” if we did file suit. This response alone is puzzling. Why would City staff threaten to “vigorously and aggressively” fight back against public disclosure of public information regarding the stewardship of public resources? It suggests that there’s more going on here than meets the eye.)
CATER is seeking to help citizens gain the access to the policy-making process, to which we’re entitled under the law. The public must be offered all information not classified as confidential under Public Records Act. The law recognizes that, when leaders have information that citizens lack, we citizens are denied our right to participate. How do we offer informed views during Public Comments if we are kept from reviewing the information that the City Council possesses?
Ironically, Council (rightly or wrongly — and we think it’s wrongly) dismissed outside opinions that night as “misinformed” when it was their own staff that prevented informed discussion. City leaders barreled forward rather than support a motion to continue the item for further discussion … and an opportunity to inform the public!
For those who dismiss the notion that Council would avert its gaze from obstacles to public participation in the process – or even aid in preventing it — we need only to look back at past actions. (Greg reminds me that this is called “pattern and practice” evidence.)
The context in which speakers have sought critical policy-related information is one in which the City Council itself has all but abdicated its own responsibility to ask City Staff questions about policy proposals. Time and again, no one on the dais except Mayor Tom Tait has asked critical and probing questions — or even any questions at all, except for those designed to discredit those of us asking questions!
Dismissing us as “politically motivated” and “misinformed” appears to be their code for “we don’t have to listen to you.” The members of the Council majority seem not to realize that those attitudes, documented word for word in public forums, are in themselves admissions of Conflict of Interest! For we citizens, ALL CITIZENS, not just the ones who praise them and write them checks, are entitled to fair process, and equal access to open government.
The members of the Council majority (with the possible exception of Lucille Kring) appear to understand that to offer special consideration for those who support you financially is a Conflict of Interest. They somehow don’t realize that refusal to offer the same consideration as the “public generally” to citizens based solely on personal dislike or disagreement with positions, is the flip side of that same Conflict of Interest!
We watched in horror as at least one councilperson, Gail Eastman, cheered for a riot in the streets, a riot which caused damage to businesses and physical harm to those caught in the pathway! That chaos, which followed the back-to-back shooting deaths of two young men, was actually CELEBRATED by this “civic leader,” whose boast of “no shots fired” missed the shots aimed at young men found on the sidewalks of our community!
In fact, Eastman’s celebration focused on the Council’s reluctance to offer a public vote on, or even publicly discuss, uncomfortable issues listed on that night’s meeting Agenda!
At the time, Voice of OC quoted Dr. Jose Moreno, whose lawsuit against the City claiming voter disenfranchisement was one of the items Eastman did not want to publicly deal with on that hot July evening:
“Jose Moreno, president of Los Amigos, says that Eastman’s comments are evidence that a small group has sway over City Hall. ‘It’s a really cynical way of saying we have sustained control of the power structure of Anaheim. The status quo has won,’ Moreno said. ‘So it shows that [Eastman] was not at the dais last night listening with an open mind and an open ear and with compassion for our community. … Nobody won last night.’ “
And actually, the very proximate cause of that “unrest” was staff’s refusal to permit public participation. While the City clearly anticipated a larger-than-usual crowd that night, and had Police stashed out of sight on stand-by, already dressed in riot gear, staff either failed to comply or refused to follow the Mayor’s order that ALL speakers must be heard, and a system put into place to handle the crowds! The City’s official reaction, absent crowd control stanchions or public address systems, was simply to lock the public out, and push back HARD against the crowd. This is what the right to address our leaders and seek relief from government actions looks like in Anaheim, CA, according to the symbiotic relationship between staff and leaders.
More recently a sitting Council member – Lucille Kring, who wants to be Mayor of our city – opined that the shooting of an Anaheim resident based on the perception of wrongdoing was preferable to due process, writing on a Colony e-mail listserv:
When civic leaders openly prefer the shooting death of a suspect to the due process that accompanies a trial, or when they celebrate rioting as a distraction to avoid public disclosure of their own decisions, is it really a stretch to believe that burying public information is outside the realm of possibility?
Those of us pressing for openness and accountability in Anaheim government certainly see no reason to expect any help from our District Attorney Tony Rackauckus (left.) Tony has not only endorsed the re-election of these same Anaheim politicians working against citizens’ interests, but he has verbally attacked the only leader on the dais trying to get information out to the public, because … wait for this … Mayor Tait refused to help him implement policies that have been reversed as Unconstitutional!
The City’s rushed and ill-considered Sept. 3 approval of the supposedly “tentative” deal points without public input was NOT a sign of good government. It wasn’t even close, and this issue is too important to let go. Without other remedies CATER sees no option other than civil litigation, and so we find ourselves reporting in to the taxpayers CATER is attempting to defend and protect.
Again, CATER is not demanding money damages and is avoiding running up any bills we don’t have to incur. Regardless of what our opponents at major law firms do, we want to hold the interests of taxpayers already being harmed by poor leadership in mind. And yet — this process takes lots of time — hundreds of hours so far (although less than the $100,000 that Councilmember Jordan Brandman [right] claimed months ago had already been spent by the city to counter our sole lawyer) — and that time costs money.
CATER’s network of supporters has graciously offered “in kind” donations of time and talent to aid our General Counsel, Greg Diamond, in our efforts to hold our leadership accountable and rein in an out of control system at City Hall. If we don’t do this, the likelihood is that no one else will.
The City of Anaheim seems to be counting on that!
If you believe in what we are doing, we can use your help. Obviously, money always helps. [Click on image to left.] Litigation has a voracious appetite for a variety of expenses, and beyond the obvious, there are hidden costs such as filing fees to the court for each step of the process (some larger than others but they all add up) and incidentals such as printing costs-example, our 125 page Amended Complaint was filed the morning of Thursday June 26th, as a courtesy we brought hard copies for all involved. Nobody wanted Rutan and Tucker trying to reference the document on smart phones. This is one example of the many expenses CATER shoulders every day, and we can’t keep doing it alone.
It now appears that discovery may require collecting statements from witnesses outside of California, among other complicated issues to gather primary record accounts. This is not going to happen overnight — nor is it going to be cheap.
Also understand that since Thursday, June 26 we have unearthed much, much more — and we will release that information as our Counsel reviews it and clears it for release. For those who thought this whole event was “questionable” you were right…and worse. Depending on how quickly we think we can nail down the existence of additional causes of action, potentially against additional defendants, this case could grow larger — or be followed by a second one. More staff — volunteer or paid (or semi-paid) — would help move that process along.
Attorneys for both sides will swap documents created at great expense, and in the process of “Discovery” reveal to each other what will be used in court. On June 26, the Judge set a Settlement Conference for December. If we cannot come to an agreement, a Hearing date in has been calendared in for April 2015.
CATER believes it is the constitutional right of every Anaheim citizen to enjoy the benefits of fair, unbiased, and open, honest government, including open access to the records used by our leaders in making governmental decisions. Americans are not a passive audience, present at a Council meeting to “watch the show” that has been scripted for public view. We are to participate fully, including the right to share our views with our leaders, which means reading what they read, hearing what they hear, and weighing in on those “findings” which influence their votes.
All of this is in addition to the hard task ahead for our city, as Anaheim leaders and residents need to work together to Keep the Angels in Anaheim, an issue NOT addressed by the Superior Court Complaint! CATER’s concern is to ensure that those negotiations are based on open information, and the two-way conversation meant to take place in the unique system of government that is America.
Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility