The Anaheim City Council is ground zero in a remarkable campaign by a city contractor to cow the elected councilmembers into submitting to its demands for a 100% increase in its project budget – in defiance of the explicit direction of the council.

In the wake of public revelations of an FBI probe into the Angel Stadium deal that sparked the resignation of Mayor Harry Sidhu, the city hired the JL Group in August 2022 to conduct an investigation into contracting and lobbying practices in connection to the now-canceled stadium deal and other city contracting matters going back ten years.

JL Group was the low bidder and promised to complete the investigation for $750,000.

By January of this year, JL Group had burned through the $750,000 and was less than halfway through the 200-person list of interviewees they had compiled. The 8-person firm – whose principal investigators are charging $350 an hour (and $250 for drive-time to and from interviews). Keep in mind those “witnesses” included council gadflies who traffic in rumor, conspiracy, and speculation.

Most of the current council were not in office when the contract was awarded and were naturally taken aback by JL Group’s request to double their budget. At it’s February 7 meeting, the city council directed JL Group to come back with a narrowed scope of work and an estimate of how much it would cost to complete the investigation under the new scope.

JL Group and their overseer, Judge Clay Smith, expressed their misgivings but agreed to follow the council’s direction.

Since then, they have changed course and are refusing to follow their client’s direction.

JL Group and Judge Smith promised the city council they’d return with a narrowed scope and budget request. Now, they are telling the council to pound sand and resuming their demands for doubling their contracted budget to $1.5 million.

When asked by councilmembers on February 7 how many people they had interviewed, JL Group refused to provide an exact number – claiming it would compromise their investigation. However, while stonewalling their client, JL Group told the Voice of OC they have “interviewed more than 60 people.”

In effect, JL Group and Judge Smith are effectively telling the mayor and city council to pound sand and collaborating with the Voice of OC in waging a thinly veiled public opinion campaign aimed at intimidating the city council into giving in to the JL Group’s demands for another three-quarters of a million dollars.

The Voice of OC, for its part, has abandoned any pretense of journalistic detachment or objectivity, and made itself the media arm of a concerted lobbying effort by a special interest coalition composed of UNITE-HERE Local 11, OCCORD, OCCCO to manipulate a city contract for political ends – a lobbying effort with which JL Group and Judge Smith are obviously colluding.

It’s no mystery why UNITE-HERE Local 11/DPOC coalition is beating the drums for giving JL Group a blank check. This is about power. For them, the investigation is a kind of mini-Cultural Revolution to root out or silence those who aren’t on board with their policy program – and it’s on the taxpayers’ dime instead of their own. Hence the eerily totalitarian rhetoric from former Councilman Jose F. Moreno declaring the necessity of investigating everyone in order to exonerate them – turning the presumption of innocent on its head. Since when do the innocent need to be exonerated?

This raises the question of who is in charge? The elected city council? Or consultants hired by the city council?

This is a situation of the tail trying to wag the dog. The JL Group is playing a game of chicken with the city council and openly disregarding the explicit direction of their client in an open, unembarrassed and unprofessional attempt to leverage another $750,000 in taxpayer dollars.

Every other firm that bid on the contract last year proposed budgets approximately twice that of JL Group, which now appears to have low-balled their bid. Last year’s council acted in an environment of moral panic, fostered in large part by Moreno and his political and media allies.

By contrast, when Democratic political consultant Melahat Rafiei pled guilty to FBI charges of attempting to actually bribe Irvine City Councilmembers, the council declined to follow Anaheim’s example and instead opted to first let the FBI investigations run their course.

Contrary to the hyperventilating by JL Group, the Voice of OC and its labor allies, the Anaheim City Council has not directed JL Group to abandon its investigation. Nor have they ruled out spending more money to complete the investigation. What they did was rightly exercise their lawful, fiduciary duty by reining in a consultant team that was mismanaging the project they were contracted to complete. Councilmembers appropriately questioned the necessity of giving another $750,000 to a consultant team that had failed to complete the job for the promised $750,000.

If any party if guilty of compromising this investigation, it is JL Group and Judge Smith via their open politicking and unprofessional attempts to manipulate city hall.