At the November 13, 2012 Anaheim City Council meeting, the council wanted to form an ad hoc committee to oversee the city’s negotiations with the Angels regarding an extension on their lease. The council majority planned to name Councilmember Gail Eastman and Councilmember Kris Murray to the ad hoc committee as Mayor Tom Tait had previously claimed a potential conflict of interest because he owned property across from Angels Stadium and his engineering business operated out of a neighboring building.
This is where it gets interesting. In response to an inquiry about the Mayor’s conflict, the Anaheim City Council minutes report what happened next:
“At the request of the Mayor, the City Attorney reported that Mayor Tait had previously secured an advice letter from the Fair Political Practices Commission indicating … he would not have a conflict of interest under the Political Reform Act.”
It has been a couple of months since the city attorney made this interpretation of the FPPC conflict letter. The letter was never made available.
But just last week the FPPC letter was made public. The letter, addressed a question posed by the City Attorney, and this is what was asked:
“May Mayor Tait take part in decisions concerning the city-owned Angel Stadium property if he transfers his ownership interest in real property within 500 feet of the Angel Stadium property to his adult, non-dependent children and amends the lease relating to his leasehold interest in a portion of the same property to prohibit him from profiting from any sublease, assignment or transfer of that leasehold?”
So that was the question asked by the City Attorney about Mayor Tait’s conflicts. And here is the FPPC’s answer:
“By transferring his entire ownership interest in 2130 Orangewood LLC, Mayor Tait will no longer have a disqualifying economic interest in the two parcels of real property owned by that entity. However, Mayor Tait will still have an economic interest in the leasehold which will be directly involved in any governmental decisions involving Angel Stadium.”
“Mayor Tait may not make, participate in making, or influence the decisions unless he can (rebut 5 factors) and determine there is no reasonably foreseeable material financial effects on any other economic interest he may have.”
Apparently the city attorney felt she could interpret all of this as – “Mayor Tait has no conflict.”
(Read the FPPC conflict letter for yourself. You can get a copy of the advice letter from the FFPC. The file number of this advice letter is # A-12-063, dated May 22, 2012.)
It is clear that the city attorney did not to give accurate legal advice. But the real question is whether she should have been fired or allowed to resign for this breach?
The mayor and councilmembers rely on the City Attorney for expert legal advice. When he or she gives poor, unsound or incomplete advice, it is the mayor and councilmembers relying on it who bear the consequences, legal as well as to their reputations.
The gap between the City Attorney’s advice at the November 13 council meeting and the opinion in the FPPC letter raises the question of whether Mayor Tait, relying on this advice, has successfully been able to avoid a conflict on the Angels’ negotiations. The questions that need to be answered are:
1. Has Mayor Tait transferred the ownership of his property to his adult, non-dependent children in order to avoid the first conflict?
2. Has Mayor Tait taken the other steps to avoid the second tier of conflicts arising out of his leasehold interest?
3. And even if he has done all of these things, when did those actions take place? Since the conflict letter is dated May 22, 2012, presumably Mayor Tait did not implement the steps in the letter until after it was received and according to state law, the conflict persists until one year after the conflict is eliminated. So did Mayor Tait have a conflict at the November 13, 2012 when the Angels ad hoc committee was being formed?