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Anaheim council may limit mayor's authority

Anaheim lawmakers will discuss stripping Mayor Tom Tait of his power to put items on the council agenda. Measure's backer says he's trying to streamline operations, but some observers see a rebuke.

September 27, 2013|By Paloma Esquivel
  • Mayor Tom Tait's positions on controversial issues have so angered former allies that he has become a lone wolf, constantly at odds with the rest of the City Council. Last year, the council voted to slash his staff budget.
Mayor Tom Tait's positions on controversial issues have so angered… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

When Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait was elected nearly three years ago, he was the easy favorite. The Republican had the support of the city's longtime outgoing mayor and its business community. He ran on a ticket alongside two winning council candidates. Tait was well poised to wield power.

Three years later, Tait's positions on controversial issues have so angered former allies that he has become a lone wolf, constantly at odds with the rest of the City Council.

Last year, the council voted to slash his staff budget.

Now — with negotiations at full boil to keep the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team in the resort city — the council is considering stripping him of one of his only significant powers: the ability to put items on council agendas.

Councilman Jordan Brandman, who made the proposal at a Tuesday council meeting, said he is simply trying to streamline the way the council operates.

"I know the mayor has said many times that he values protocol and proper procedure and that is exactly my goal with this proposal," he said.

But others see less earnest motives.

"This is not about the agenda," said Fred Smoller, associate professor of political science at Chapman University, who teaches a class on Orange County politics. "They're giving him a little slap. They're sending a signal."

Last year, Tait surprised many people when he vocally lent his support to a proposal by Latino activists to change the city's at-large voting system to elections by district to reflect the sweeping ethnic and economic changes in Orange County's largest city. Tait's effort to allow city residents to vote on the change was defeated.

Tait also fought a $158-million tax incentive given to the developer of two luxury hotels near Disneyland. The subsidy was approved 4 to 1, with Tait the lone dissenter. This month, he has been loudly critical about the parameters of a deal to keep the Angels in Anaheim. Again, Tait cast the lone dissenting vote earlier this month against the deal.

Since last year, City Council meetings have become increasingly tense, with Tait, who has the power to run the meetings, frequently involved in tiffs with his fellow council members.

"He has proved to be much more independent than anybody would have guessed," said Eric Altman, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, an advocacy organization that backs district elections.

The suggestion to strip the mayor of the agenda-setting power came after Tait put the Angels deal on the council's agenda this week. Though the parameters for negotiations were approved weeks ago, Tait said he felt the public had not had an adequate opportunity to examine the proposal, which was announced just before the Labor Day weekend. So he put it on Tuesday's agenda.

After a heated meeting, Brandman said he wanted to change the city's procedures. Brandman, who sided with the mayor on the district election issue, said he isn't making a political move.

"I think we need to have full equanimity and equality," he said. "Let's all operate under the same rules."

Brandman said the council needs to address the issue because Tait has used his agenda-setting power multiple times this year.

His proposal would erode the mayor's powers, forcing him to get the support of at least one additional council member to put an item on the agenda. Any item that had the support of two council members would also be placed on the agenda.

Such a move, Tait said, "muzzles dissent and muzzles public discourse."

"The bottom line is that if the board doesn't agree with something, it won't get on the agenda to air to the public," he said.

Mark Petracca, associate professor of political science at UC Irvine, said California mayors almost always have the authority to set a city council's agenda.

"It's one of the very few explicit powers that they have, normally specified in city code. It would be highly, highly unusual to take that authority away from a mayor," he said in an email.

A special meeting to discuss the proposal is set for 8 a.m. Monday at Anaheim City Hall.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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