On Monday, the Voice of OC’s Adam Elmahrek discovered a troubling practice over at the City of Anaheim Planning Department. It seems that a former contract Plan Review Supervisor Steve Ahuna, employed by city contractor Charles Abbott Associates, directed more than $100,000 in plan review work to his employer while serving as Supervisor. It is not entirely clear yet whether he also may have worked on that plan review work in addition to his full time contract position with the city.
This discovery highlights the incredibly lax oversight of contract work in the City of Anaheim. The City manager currently has a $250,000 signing approval for contracts without Council approval. In contrast the County of Orange gives CEO Tom Mauk approval authority up to $50,000, and Santa Ana gives their City Manager signing authority only up to $25,000. The process of plan review is critical for development projects in the city. If the skids are greased, then the developers have an easier time moving their projects forward.
While Anaheim is a charter city, their municipal code requires them to comply with state conflict of interest laws; specifically Government Code §1090 which states:
Members of the Legislature, state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members. Nor shall state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees be purchasers at any sale or vendors at any purchase made by them in their official capacity.
Bottom line, you cannot do work that conflicts with your role as a public employee. If you are a contract employee of the city, you still must follow these rules. If in your role as a contract public employee you have authority to direct the expenditure of public funds you cannot do so that if it benefits you directly. It would seem that directing work to your employer, in your public capacity, would violate conflict of interest law.
The problem here is that contract employees operate in a virtual grey area. In this arena their compliance with regulations is obscured because there is no direct supervision by city staff to ensure that conflict of interest regulations are actually being followed. You’ve got contract employees dishing up hefty amounts of work to other outside contractors with no supervision at all.
This highlights the core of what’s the matter with Anaheim. Nobody seems to be minding the store, and the City Council has delegated a significant chunk of authority to a City Manager, who clearly has no interest in watching the store either. Money is flying out the door and no one is making sure the rules are being followed.
“This clearly demonstrates the need for policies that ensure transparency and accountability at all levels of city government;” said Anaheim resident and transparency advocate John Leos. “A culture of transparency flows from the top levels of government down. The Council should stop dragging their feet and partner with me to immediately adopt a transparency ordinance. They need to start leading by example.”
In addition to shining a spotlight on the flawed concept of contracting out city functions and jobs to the lowest bidders, it also shows what the lack of oversight, transparency, and accountability can do to a city government.
The last item on the City Council Agenda for Tuesday October 25th is 35. Discuss the existing policies and procedures governing the City’s contracting and purchasing authority.
That should be worth the wait till the end of the meeting.