Under Duress to Cover Burress!

So, it seems the world will not let me bask in the afterglow of the Jessie Lopez Victory any longer. Apparently I am now under duress to cover the resignation of Visit Anaheim CEO Jay Burress.

  • First, Wednesday morning, one of my anonymous tipsters e-mailed me that Jay had resigned, but it just did not seem interesting or newsworthy to me (as much as I usually appreciate her tips) as Jay has been on a leave of absence since the JL Report release in early July.
  • Then next day, the Voice printed a story about it, but there was really no news in it except that Jay had resigned – I guess they can say they broke THAT earth-shattering story. (Those boys sure can recycle stuff!)
  • Then NEXT day, Greg is telling me I need to write about this resignation because I guess it’s in our wheelhouse. And apparently I “predicted” this or something?

I suppose this blog did have a lot to do with Jay’s resignation – ASSUMING that was related to…

The 2020 $6.5 Million COVID Heist

I mean, who knows what OTHER malfeasance the FBI or Avelino’s State Audit may have uncovered that could’ve led to Jay’s departure? But that $6.5 million (and especially the secret misdirection of $1.5 million of that, discovered later by JL) is certainly the most outrageous Visit Anaheim incident that WE KNOW OF.

And we spoke out against that from the moment it was announced (at the last minute, same time Councilman Moreno was told about it – it was an EMERGENCY don’t you know!) Coming one month after the same Cabal Council Majority pushed through an unaffordably generous police contract (ADMITTING that they’d have to “dip into the reserves” to cover it), weeks into a public health catastrophe, and USING that as both an excuse to do it AND to do it quickly as an “emergency,” the conceit was that we MUST QUICKLY GIVE the tourist agency (usually funded by a hotel surcharge) $6.5 MILLION OF COVID MONEY so they can continue to promote and advertise a resort district that was then closed down for a pandemic that everyone knew would last a lot longer, and turned out to last another year.

We compared it to LOOTERS at a disaster, and to Naomi Klein’s idea of “Shock Doctrine,” in which elites take advantage of any crisis at hand, using it as an excuse to accomplish something they already wanted to do.

Our decent City Manager Chris Zapata got fired for being publicly critical of that heist, if you’ll recall. He found the amount excessive, thought it should be a loan rather than a gift, and that it should be tied to some sort of strict performance metrics. HE thought we should deal with the crisis by everyone taking a pay cut, which he offered to first do himself. Well, that was the final bit of insolence from Chris – he was gone within a month, fired by the same five-member lockstep Sidhu Majority that passed the police contract and the VA giveaway. And that cost us another million because we had “fucked with the wrong Mexican.”

What did Visit Anaheim DO with all that money, with no resort to promote? We came across a memo written by a VA executive puzzling over that very question, of how could they stay relevant during quarantine? And we published it. It was kind of funny and pathetic, and not real indicative of any need for $6.5 million. A few months later the agency put out a cheery press release to Anaheim residents on how to take a “STAYcation.” Clearly the only “emergency” was to keep VA and Chamber executives, usually funded by the resort, living in the style to which they’d become accustomed, with their $400k+ salaries.

Over the next two years, Dr. Moreno would sometimes say, “We don’t even know what happened with some of that money.” THAT was before the JL Group came along with their report, to help fill in the gaps!

July 2023, Burress introduces himself!

Odd things happened last July, the tense month leading up to the expected release of the JL Report – the JL Advent if you will. Remember, that’s when ex-Councilman Brandman went to the Times to tell his version of what his time in power was like. Also, Jay Burress came up to me at a Council meeting for the first time and introduced himself, all friendly-like, wanting to have lunch.

Up till then, he seemed not to like me – he found it irritating and maybe insulting the couple times my wife mistook him for me at meetings. Up close she noticed that he always wore fancy colorful socks, and I joked about that in a couple of my pieces, along with noting his huge salary and San Clemente residence.

But Jay was jovial and wanted to have lunch with me “and whoever,” so he could help me understand what important stuff Visit Anaheim does. He said he reads this blog regularly, loves my sense of humor (that’s always nice to hear!) and had been planning to surprise me with a big pack of fancy socks (which still hasn’t happened.) I told him I had a big problem with his agency getting that $6.5 million in federal Covid money, and he replied, “I hope you realize that I didn’t ask for that.”

I thought about it for a few days and thought “Why not, I’ll have lunch with Jay and hear him out,” but by then I’d lost his card with his cell number, the JL report “dropped,” and Jay wasn’t coming to work any more. He was, from then on, “unavailable.”

Praise of JL

Despite their report’s misspellings, little easy-to-spot mistakes, and Tarantino-esque chronology, it was amazing all the hinkiness the JL Group was able to find, given their lack of subpoena power and their being stonewalled by the Chamber, Visit Anaheim, Disney and the Angels – Anaheim’s main puppet masters. I’m sure I wasn’t the only interviewee who encouraged them to look into that $6.5 million Covid Heist, and they certainly did.

It turns out that Jay DIDN’T (originally) ask for $6.5 million when informed his agency could get a Covid cash infusion – he asked for $5 million, an amount he says he pulled out of thin air. And THEN Chamber head Todd Ament (left) and Mayor Harry Sidhu (both now prison-bound) told him to tack an extra $1.5 million onto that – an amount he later secretly funneled to an Ament-controlled nonprofit, and, as instructed, lied about it. This nonprofit, the “Anaheim Economic Development” something, was used by Todd for handy purposes such as helping to finance his purchase of a mansion in Big Bear.

Is Jay Burress the next in line for serious legal trouble? Is this maybe the first sign of the Advent of the State Audit, like the JL Advent before it? Will shoes again begin raining from the sky? We wait watchfully.

In the heady post-JL days, some of us flirted with the idea that Visit Anaheim should be abolished, and the job of promoting and advertising our resort should be done in house, by some sort of tourist department. There were lots of reasons this idea didn’t catch on. I did have lunch with a couple of hoteliers who are also on the Visit Anaheim board, who tried to impress upon me what important and specialized work VA does – they travel all over the nation, talking companies and organizations into having their Conventions here in the City of Kindness.

Well, that sounds like valuable and fun work, maybe something someone could do for $100k rather than $400k. On the other hand, since this is ALMOST always funded by the hotel industry, it’s probably not our business how they want to spend their money.

Except, that $6.5 MILLION WAS OUR MONEY, and we should get it ALL back, not just the $1.5. And Jay, if you’re reading this down in San Clemente, which I bet you are, I’m still up for lunch! I know you like The Ranch – let’s do it!

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.