“Wrap that Investigation Up!” barks panicked new Anaheim Council.

[Probably Councilwoman Natalie Meeks, sensing peril.]

A “fight or flight” reflex took hold of Anaheim’s (jokingly nicknamed) “Reform Council” last night, when the team the previous council had hired to investigate the town’s corruption (the JL Group) showed up, asking for more money to continue their work because the cesspool they’d been tasked to survey had turned out to be ever so much deeper and wider than originally suspected.

“We have never seen anything like this,” marveled veteran investigator Jeff Johnson, and orifices on that dais clenched palpably. When his colleague Jeff Love mentioned possible “criminal violations of the law,” the gang of seven began to focus feverishly on stanching the damage.

It didn’t help when Love added, “We’ve found problems going back 20 years.” No wonder Natalie Meeks was the most terrified of all – she’s brand new on Council but she was a real mover and shaker when her handler Curt Pringle was Mayor from 2002-10. She had come prepared with a list of grave concerns (and didn’t appear to be receiving any texts on the dais.) Most pressingly she agonized about what the JL Group might release to the public, and how it could very possibly HURT GOOD PEOPLE! The final report is set to be released in full to the public who paid for it – activists made sure of that – but you could tell the good Ms. Meeks dearly hopes she can redact it first.

Natalie M also, like the rest of the Council, bellyached over the additional $750k the investigators were requesting – a mere ZERO-POINT-FOUR PERCENT of the 185MM in public money she and Pringle blew on the unnecessary and currently deserted ARTIC Station, but hey. That’s water under the bridge, while THIS is just an attempt to get honest government in Anaheim.

Poor Councilman Steve Faessel sat bent and silent the whole time, and abstained on the vote. I’d been told earlier in the day that he is personally under investigation, and dismissed it as a rumor until last night. It’s kind of sad. It’s not as easy to wish ill on that dapper and friendly gentleman as it was with the arrogant Sidhu, Brandman, O’Neil, Kring and Murray.

As always we strove diligently to decipher what Councilman Jose Diaz was saying. Most of it seemed to be protestations of his innocence of ANYTHING. At one point though, Jeanine and I looked at each other quickly – we swore we both heard him tell the investigators “I give you blank check for your work.” But I’m sure he meant the opposite, that he DIDN’T want to give them a blank check.

It was maddening to hear new members Leon and Rubalcava, intelligent people with plenty of government knowledge who RAN ON A PLATFORM OF REFORM, claim unfamiliarity with anything to do with the investigation. They weren’t paying attention that month, too busy running for office? But the thing had been properly agendized for yesterday’s meeting. Jeesh! At least Mayor Aitken was familiar with the investigation, but she like the others was put off by the additional $750k the team was requesting, to continue their painstaking work into July.

Having been elected with HUGE help from Anaheim’s Fire Union, our new Mayor expresses expenditures, sums of money, in terms of how many firefighters it could theoretically pay for – the firefighters we’re missing out on hiring if we spend on something else like investigating corruption. “This $750k is THREE FIREFIGHTERS we could put on the street!” the Mayor cried out. $250k per firefighter seems a little steep, but she’s probably right, in Anaheim, after their recent raise.

Her expressing costs in terms of firefighters caught on with some of the other members too. Firefighters as currency will be something to get used to though, and may take some practice. Let’s see:

  • Arte Moreno tried to buy the Stadium land for FOUR FIREFIGHTERS AN ACRE.
  • Special interests spent THREE FIREFIGHTERS electing Natalie Meeks.
  • Natalie and Curt blew 740 FIREFIGHTERS building the unnecessary and still-deserted ARTIC station. Okay, I guess this could work…

The Sage of Dogwood

In the years after Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency, his successors Madison and Monroe used to regularly make pilgrimages to his Monticello estate to get his advice on issues of the day – thus, he was sometimes referred to as “The Sage of Monticello.” Well, Anaheim has Gloria Ma’ae, the appointed-and-quickly-defeated Councilwoman who makes the trip from her Dogwood Avenue home to share her wisdom with today’s Council. Sure, the hallmark of her tenure was 1) profess ignorance of most issues, 2) vote on them anyway, and 3) read off lists of “concerns” compiled by her handler Arianna Barrios.

But at this point Gloria has knowledge and ideas to share! It was startling last week to hear Mayor Aitken – an actual lawyer – echoing Gloria’s earlier arguments against including Independent Expenditures in our much-needed package of Campaign Finance Reform because somehow Citizens United makes it unconstitutional. (It doesn’t.) This blog will have much more to say about THAT in the days to come, but that was just a foretaste of Gloria’s influence!

For the Sage of Dogwood sauntered up to the mike last night and decreed that “The investigation should be put on hold until the FBI are done with THEIR investigation” – and soon enough, FOUR of our Councilmembers were saying the same thing! (Gloria mentioned, correctly, that Irvine had just voted against a similar self-investigation with the same bogus excuse – and to Irvine’s shame, that is true, and who the hell told Gloria about that anyway?)

Well, to start with, as Johnson replied, the JL Group’s “scope is different from the FBI’s. We’re not duplicating their effort … We primarily address not only political crimes, but state crimes and violations as well. We’re looking at some different things than the feds are. I’m not sure that would help for you to put it on hold.”

Aside from that, can’t you see what a stupid bullshit evasion that is, waiting on the Feds, how it’s just a naked attempt to put off the investigation forever? Nobody knows for sure if the FBI is still in Anaheim (or if they’re really in Irvine) – we hope they are but they don’t tell us – and we won’t know when they’re done either. This is like some little kid’s REALLY lame attempt at not having to clean their room till some other day.

Déjà vu? Nah…

A lot of you, watching last night’s meeting, watching a group elected on the promise of investigating and reforming their predecessors’ lawless acts, back off on that promise because “It’s all better now, we’re in charge,” may have felt like you were experiencing déjà vu.

Well you weren’t! Déjà vu is an unexplained psychological phenomenon where you feel that you’ve experienced something before but you know you haven’t. But we HAVE experienced this before. And I’m not just talking about Obama’s exhortations to “Look forward not back” and let Bush’s war crimes and lying us into Iraq go unpunished, or the current AG’s glacial pace at doing anything about Trump’s crimes against the nation. I’m talking about something we all experienced recently in THIS County.

I’m talking about how when Todd Spitzer was elected DA, having campaigned through 2018 against Tony Rackauckas’ jailhouse snitch scandal and countless other abuses, decided to stonewall and otherwise prevent any meaningful investigations or consequences into his predecessor’s behavior. “Oh, everything’s good now, I’m in charge. Go home. Nothing more to worry about.”

It’s enough to make you suspect that these “reformist” candidates never really cared about the crimes they railed against in their campaigns, or the consequences of letting those pass with impunity – rather, they were ONLY USING THOSE to get themselves into office. Is the election of “reformists” Aitken, Leon and Rubalcava ANY different? We shall see on Feb. 28, but it’s not looking good right now.

“Meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss…”

[illustration Felipe Flores, OC Weekly]

“If you want to destroy my sweater…”

Judge Clay Smith, who oversees this JL Group investigation, told the Council last night, “What my colleagues are finding raises real concerns. It needs to be finished… I believe that if you let them finish their job, you’ll be glad you did because you’ll know what happened and you will have, I think, some valuable recommendations for public policy.”

But Council gave them till next meeting, Feb. 28, to narrow their scope and WRAP THE INVESTIGATION UP.

We hired these gentlemen to pull on the thread of corruption, and they pulled on it, and Anaheim’s corruption turned out to be much bigger than anyone expected, like Weezer’s sweater. If we want to destroy that sweater, we need to let them keep pulling, even if it does cost us three firefighters – they are used to running into burning buildings for the public good! Vern out.

[DISCLAIMER: Wylie Aitken does NOT chair the Orange Juice Blog Board of Directors!]

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.