With the floodgates open, exposing years of corruption in Anaheim, many had hoped for some meaningful change at City Hall. At least for now, there will be no such reckoning.
The city council shot down nearly every one of Mayor Ashleigh Aitken’s proposed anti-corruption reforms at its meeting last Tuesday, while criticizing a 350-page investigative report on misdeeds by city officials and business leaders.
Councilmember Jose Diaz characterized the findings as “a lot of opinions, a lot of speculation, a lot of gossip, even tons of misspellings,” adding that “for $1.5 million, at least spell check that.”
Councilmember Natalie Rubalcava also took issue with the report, which cast her in an unflattering light. Among other things, investigators found she violated the city charter by giving operational direction to city staff rather than the city manager.
Rubalcava called the claim inaccurate.
“I have not directed staff to do anything,” she said. “As a matter of fact, I always work with our city manager to collaborate respectfully with city staff.”
The council voted to send a letter of support for a state audit of Visit Anaheim, which allegedly re-routed COVID-19 funds to a nonprofit affiliated with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. However, the council rejected a city audit. With Diaz dissenting, the council also voted to consider defunding the organization.
The council rejected Aitken’s calls for new lobbying reforms. Leaders directed staff to come up with a more transparent system for city contracts, but declined to scale back the city manager’s signing authority as recommended by investigators.
This defiance in the face of such serious revelations clearly angered city residents. Many of them have questioned the legitimacy of the city council.
“There’s a culture of corruption that resides in this building,” resident Jeanine Robbins said. “A sense of trust will never be restored as long as these people still sit here.”
Rubalcava pushed back against that sentiment at last week's meeting. She said there was nothing in the report that suggested any current council members should resign. At that, the chambers erupted in laughter.