Why, REALLY, is Sidhu firing decent well-liked City Manager Chris Zapata?


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NOTE: This is the original, longer, before-the-event version of the story.

Yes, THAT is the question roiling through LITERALLY SEVERAL PEOPLE’S MINDS, in the always-roiling town of Anaheim:  Why, in the middle of a deadly crisis such as we find ourselves in, is Mayor Harry moving to fire a City Manager who, going by nearly anyone we can talk to or THEY can talk to, has been doing a perfectly fine job and is liked by pretty much everybody?  This has taken the City of Kindness by SURPRISE – they’re CANNING CHRIS ZAPATA!

Well, at the March 26 Covid Heist meeting, when asked (by Councilman Moreno) his opinion on the $6.5 million emergency giveaway to the resort-advertising nonprofit Visit Anaheim, Chris DID express reservations: it should not be quite that much at the outset, and it should be attached to strict metrics and performance review by Zapata himself.  I did a bit of a double-take when I heard Chris give this thoughtful opinion, and I wrote on my blog that “I hope he keeps his job.”  But I was really half-joking – I thought I was just making snark about Mayor Harry’s intolerance toward dissent.  I didn’t think Chris would REALLY get fired over giving his opinion when asked.

Last night I asked Jose, did you expect Chris to answer the way he did?  And yes, Jose had discussed the giveaway with Chris, Chris had given him his opinion, Jose asked, “If I ask you during the meeting, would you mind repeating that to the Council?” and Chris said sure.  He has never been shy about giving his opinion WHEN ASKED, but on the other hand he has always diligently performed whatever the Council majority has asked, which, since Dec. 2018, has meant whatever Mayor Harry and his handlers want.

If you remember Chinatown as well as I do, you’ll remember old Noah Cross questioning Jake whether his old acquaintance Lt. Escobar was “honest,” and Jake responding, “As far as it goes – he has to swim in the same dirty water as the rest of us.”

That sounds about right.  Chris made the crooked plans of Harry Sidhu – most notably the Stadium Giveaway – happen as honestly and competently as he could.  I liked Chris because when he got the job (in the waning days of Tait) he became the first Anaheim City Manager in recent memory to actually live in this town, renting a place in West Anaheim because he understood it was an area that needed attention and investment.  And he used to walk the neighorhoods every night, speaking to homeowners and the homeless alike.  I understand that numerous letters supporting him have been pouring in from that area.

Stark contrast from his predecessor Paul Emery, whom nobody ever saw except for the big special interests, and I forget what fancy-ass place the fat bastard lived.   But moving on…

Chris’ Thursday morning memo, and Friday’s Voice of OC article.

As we were puzzling over the real reason(s) for Chris’ impending firing, Spencer and Brandon of The Voice weighed in.  They’d gotten – and then gave – the impression that Chris’ firing, agendized Thursday afternoon, was provoked by a controversial MEMO he wrote that morning, detailing several ways the city could save money during the COVID crisis.  According to the impression they’d gotten, and gave, this memo angered the Mayor (or his handlers) so badly that the decision was immediately made to discuss his firing.  That seemed a little unusual and abrupt for what at first glance appears to be a pretty constructive and well-meaning memo.

Yes, I have that memo too, a lot of people have it by now.  Chris sent it out at 10-something AM on Thursday, and pointedly did NOT include the traditional verbiage at the bottom that this is only to be viewed by the recipients and not shared.  But he did specify he doesn’t want it published, but only described, an unusual request I’ll try to comply with here:

“…Staff has been reviewing economic information that model various scenarios… As these are not normal times and our budget and budget calendar have been impacted by COVID-19, I provide this information and will bring forth as recommendations:…”

CITY MANAGER CONTRACT:  Chris offers to reduce his own salary by 10% for 12 months, to save the city $29,900 on his $299,000.

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE:  He’s received a request FROM the CoC to amend the current $450K “based on COVID impacts to events and businesses.  As I don’t completely understand this paragraph I’ll quote:  “There is tremendous need in the business community which I believe the Chamber of Commerce can help us address through the end of the contract in lieu of current state prohibited events involving gatherings of 10 or more. Reconfiguring the last 3 months of this agreement to create a coordinated use of City and Chamber resources is necessary.”

Can’t stand that messy “Z”. Plus this word doesn’t exist in any language. Plus the last great show they did was Matt Leslie’s “Garbage Art” in 2014.

MUZEO AGREEMENT:  Chris proposes “deferring and extending” the current agreement which provides the Muzeo $250K per year thru 2023 and an additional $150K line of credit, and “negotiate a lesser amount of funding over the next 12 months.”  (The Muzeo is Curt Pringle’s baby, could THIS be what got Chris in hot water?)

VISIT ANAHEIM:  VA’s funding has been impacted by COVID (as was mentioned at length by Council kleptos March 26.)  Chris recommends executive compensation be reduced.  The 2019 [sic] 990 forms list compenstaion for CEO Jay Burress as $432,954 and Senior VP Christina Dawson as $318,154.  Ooh, now THAT’S the Third Rail – nobody knew how much VA execs were raking in till this week!

The Voice also got a quote Friday from klepto-friendly Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster, claiming defensively that Visit Anaheim already has made great cuts:  “In March, staff was cut from 71 to 32 people.”  We knew that, from the March 26 meeting. 

What we didn’t know, and apparently Chris didn’t know either, was this: “The remaining staff members have all taken pay cuts in the form of mandatory unpaid furloughs.  [The well-heeled Burress and Dawson] are on two weeks unpaid furlough each month, a 50 percent reduction in salary…”  Asked further questions about this surprising news, Lyster snapped, “We don’t have anything additional to share.”

NOTE:  Lyster pointedly did NOT say WHEN the “remaining staff members” including the well-heeled Burress and Dawson were put on mandatory unpaid furlough.  After a couple days of thought, I’m thinking that happened Thursday or Friday, AFTER Chris let the world know what they were making.  Cuz remember: their whopping salaries may have hitherto been footed by the resort industry, but since Visit Anaheim received an “emergency” $6.5 million injection from our city reserves, THEY ARE NOW PUBLIC EMPLOYEES.

Saturday morning I was waiting for the next shoe to drop, and said on the blog:  When is the Klepto-blog gonna pull out its knives for Zapata?  I’m guessing Monday.  Zenger also guessed Monday.  And THEN IT CAME Saturday morning – it couldn’t wait till Monday:

The Klepto-Blog’s “Anaheim Insider” Weighs In

For this job, Matt Cunningham’s blog brought in, for the first time in two years, their anonymous “Anaheim Insider” persona, who in this case sounds just like Matt himself – why the subterfuge?  AI accuses the Voice of several mistakes, a smaller one being the fact that Visit Anaheim’s 990 forms for 2019 are not yet available, and Chris was going by what was actually the 990’s for 2017, information he had gotten in an e-mail from our friend, investigative reporter Duane Roberts.

Well I can confirm that this was not the Voice‘s mistake but Chris’ – Chris’ memo does say 2019 but Duane’s e-mail says 2017.  But this leads to a new question – what IS the current compensation for the well-heeled public employees Burress and Dawson, three years after they were making $432,954 and $318,154?  These things don’t go DOWN.  Was Jay up to $500K yet? 

But the most interesting thing AI tells us (true or not) is that Chris had been summoned to a Thursday morning meeting, with Mayor Harry and the City Attorney, to give him a courtesy notice that he was going to be fired.  According to AI, Chris lost his temper, stormed out of the meeting, and THEN IMMEDIATELY e-mailed that memo to all and sundry.  The main point AI wants to make is that the memo was not the cause of Chris’ firing, but some kind of reaction to it.

A propaganda site like AnaheimBlog doesn’t generally traffic in completely fabricated falsehoods if it can help it, but more in convenient half-truths.  So I expect that the morning meeting did happen, and Chris did immediately send out that memo afterward.  But this memo took some time to write, it had to have already been prepared.

Here’s what I, and the “insiders” I hang with, suspect actually happened:  At this Thursday morning meeting, called for whatever reason, Chris brought in his memo of ideas for how to save money during the COVID crisis.  Harry hated it – probably because it blew the lid off how much Visit Anaheim brass were making, suggested cutting that, and suggested cutting Muzeo funding – and ordered him not to send it out.  Chris, as described by AI, stormed out and sent it off anyway, omitting the usual privacy clause; and his firing was agendized.

And for the kleptos, this necessitated the quick invention, implementation and publicizing of a “half-time unpaid furlough” for the Visit Anaheim brass.  And Duane’s muckraking put this all into motion!  Speaking of Duane…

The April 2 e-mail distraction.

Duane Roberts. Why not. I need a photo here.

Duane thinks Chris was being dishonest and pretending not to know this OTHER fact:  On April 2 Duane inquired of Lyster whether or not Burress et al had taken paycuts, and Lyster replied (although he claimed to be unaware of how much VA folks make) that those VA staff who hadn’t already been laid off had taken a 20% pay cut.  Yes, that’s the first time I’ve mentioned that fact in this piece.  It’s not something Lyster told the Voice for some reason.  Duane says Zapata was CC’d on Lyster’s reply to him, and so there’s no way he didn’t know about this 20% pay cut. 

I say he didn’t read that e-mail, a copy of a Lyster response to Duane.  It would have been really stupid for Chris to suggest a VA pay cut if he knew they’d already had one.  And THINK HOW BUSY CHRIS HAS BEEN during this crisis – he’s been in charge of managing the city’s response to the COVID crisis, administering the $8 million in emergency public aid, and co-ordinating with county, state and federal agencies.  (Jose, frustrated with many of his e-mails to Chris not being answered, finally complained to him, and Chris apologized, asking him to CC his assisant who makes sure things don’t slip his attention.)

This segues:  This is a TERRIBLE TIME to be getting rid of a City Manager who’s been managing this crisis, expertly by all accounts.  Also, Anaheim Insider feels comfortable ridiculing Chris for offering to take a 10% cut, when unbeknownst to him Burress & friends were allegedly taking an (unannounced) 50% cut.  Well I’m fine with that:  Chris has been busier and more indispensable than ever, while we have caught wind of Visit Anaheim folks discussing how the hell they’re supposed to keep themselves occupied these days.  Yes, they SHOULD be on furlough!  And not taking $6.5 million out of our reserves.

Who’s Jay Burress?

The well-heeled Burress.

We know some things now that we didn’t know about the CEO/Secretary of hotel-tax-funded resort-advertising nonprofit Visit Anaheim.  We know that he makes at least $433K a year, possibly closer to half a million by now, advertising for Disneyland and the surrounding hotels, and getting folks to hold conventions at our Convention Center.  We know that he lives in San Clemente, a very nice town with lots of weather vanes on people’s porches.

If you go to Council meetings you see him up front a lot.  From a distance he looks like me actually, same baldness and spectacles.  More than once my wife Donna mistook him for me while searching for me.  She calls him my doppelganger, and he appears to hate that;  he probably thinks I’m a troublesome lowlife.  He does have very nice and fancy socks, which I wouldn’t have noticed.  Her sense of competition aroused, Donna has endeavored to get me equally cool socks, but we do not have quite Jay’s sock budget.

I remember him two years ago, along with then-Councilwoman Kris Murray, and Teamsters thug Ernesto Medrano, attempting an improvised press conference at Maxwell Park, AGAINST Measure L, the resort workers’ successful attempt to get a living wage.  I guess that’s part of the Visit Anaheim CEO’s job, to speak out against making Disneyland and their hotels pay their workers a little more. 

Why was this presser being held at Maxwell Park, you ask, a place that was then infamous for the large number of homeless crashing there?  Well, the kleptocracy’s inspiration was to show the homeless blight, and then try to make the case that, if Disney has to pay a living wage, their profits will suffer, leading to lower tax receipts for Anaheim, making it harder for Anaheim to build shelters or whatever it takes to get these homeless out of sight. 

A difficult case to make, and a bunch of us homeless advocates and Measure L supporters made it even harder by showing up early and crashing their party.  Kris Murray drove up, saw us, and turned right around.  ROTFLMAO. (Once again, thanks to Duane Roberts for getting us that tip nice and early!)

So that’s Jay Burress.  Now we know that he gets paid nearly half a million for his labors, his nonprofit just got an emergency injection of $6.5 million from our reserves, and he lives in beautiful San Clemente.

Wrapping Up.

It doesn’t fail.  Like clockwork.  More than once a month, more like once every three weeks, Mayor Sidhu give us MORE AND MORE COMPELLING REASONS TO RECALL HIM.

Now we can add to the bill of particulars:  Fired a decent, competent, and well-liked City Manager for no cause, in the middle of a pandemic crisis, costing the City another huge unnecessary sum.

Yeah, did I mention, I don’t think I did.  Harry, if he convinces at least three of his fellow kleptos to go along with him, can fire Chris for no cause, BUT it’ll cost us AT LEAST a year of his salary – $300K – and likely more, if Chris puts up a fuss which he should.

And while we’re throwing shade at Harry, don’t let his cadre of enablers off the hook – he couldn’t ever do anything horrible if it weren’t for the connivance of Stephen Faessel, Trevor O’Neil, Lucille Kring, and USUALLY Jordan Brandman.

Let’s see what happens tomorrow.  None of us know any valid reason to fire Chris, maybe there’s something we don’t know but I doubt it.  And maybe Harry won’t get a majority but I’ve never seen that.  The only thing that has ever stopped these kleptos in their plans is if the Chamber crowd complains, which is conceivable.  But let’s see what happens tomorrow.*  SEE UPDATE BELOW.

And if we’re making bets on Chris’ replacement, put me down for longtime Assistant CM Greg Garcia, in whom Harry always seems well pleased.

Vern out.

UPDATE Wed. morning:

Well, Chris was fired, no stopping the juggernaut of Harry’s pissed-off wishes. The ONLY reason given, privately AND publicly, was Harry “wanting to go in a different direction.” So yeah, it was the impertinence of Chris offering a slightly contrary opinion during a public meeting about a resort-interest giveaway, WHEN ASKED.

$450 K severance package. (Plus benefits / pension?) Half a million during this crisis, to go “a different direction.”

And the vote was 5-2. Fucking Jordan. Mark my words: Jordan’s new go-to excuse is “this was the Mayor’s wish, and unlike me he was elected at-large, so I bow to his wishes.” As though Jordan wasn’t elected by his own West Anaheim district, where Zapata chose to live, and whose people he served diligently. AND as though Jordan had ever been as unquestioningly submissive to Mayor Tait, who was elected at large by a MAJORITY – 53.4% – of Anaheim, rather than the measly 32.5% Harry got!

And don’t forget to hold this against Stephen Faessel as well.

The interim City Manager, as I predicted, is, IMMEDIATELY and as I predicted, the obedient submissive Greg Garcia.

One thing Jose had mentioned on his Monday Facebook live pre-meeting “workshop” was that this firing is a warning shot for any other staff who dare to even give a slightly critical opinion about majority ideas, even if asked. It’s ALL BAD.

How do we fit this NEW outrage onto our 200-word “reasons to recall Sidhu” (and replace Faessel?) Please advise.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.