Anaheim mayor facing mounting pressure to resign amid corruption probe

Anaheim City Hall is in a roil following an FBI probe into a "cabal" that wielded and allegedly abused its powers.
Anaheim City Hall is in a roil following an FBI probe into a “cabal” that wielded and allegedly abused its powers over local government.
(Gabriel San Roman)

After being named in an FBI investigation this week, Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu declined to attend a City Council meeting the following day.

An empty seat stood at the far right of the dais with a nameplate removed while Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil chaired the meeting in Sidhu’s absence.

“Mayor Sidhu is not able to join us,” O’Neil said in brief comments on the probe. “What has been shared is news to all of us. The issues raised are concerning and something that we take very seriously.”

In his affidavit, FBI special agent Brian Adkins found probable cause that Sidhu may have committed numerous crimes including fraud, bribery, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and providing confidential information in breach of the Brown Act to the Los Angeles Angels during negotiations on a development deal surrounding the baseball stadium in Anaheim.

Though not on the agenda, council members discussed the allegations in the FBI’s affidavit and described them as “troubling” and “shocking” during the meeting.

Calls to make Sidhu’s absence from Anaheim City Council permanent have only grown since.

Anaheim Councilman Avelino Valencia first publicly asked for the mayor’s resignation during the council meeting to applause from residents in the audience.

“Mayor Sidhu, if you are watching,” Valencia said, “you have one last opportunity to do the right thing for our city.”

Harry Sidhu, as a mayoral candidate, at a rally in 2018 as former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Todd Ament spoke.
(Gabriel San Roman)

In the wake of related criminal charges filed this week against former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Todd Ament, Councilman Jose Moreno challenged the city to immediately cut contracts with the chamber and Anaheim First, a resident group founded, in part, by it.

He also demanded that an independent investigation into potential city staff involvement in Sidhu’s alleged corruption take place, citing the FBI probe.

“Given that the root of this appears to be the undue influence and insatiable thirst for campaign donations,” Moreno said, “what other quid pro quo arrangements have been made in our city?”

The councilman ended by asking Walt Disney Co. to cease all campaign contributions ahead of local elections in November.

Residents also took the opportunity of the council meeting to sound off on the FBI probe.

Mayoral candidate Ashleigh Aitken echoed Valencia’s call for Sidhu to resign and challenged the council to recall the stipulated judgement in the Angel Stadium deal, which a judge delayed action on this week for 60 days in light of the federal investigation into the mayor.

Jeanine Robbins, an activist with the People’s Homeless Task Force group that sued the city over the Angel Stadium deal, expected the corruption probe to extend beyond the embattled mayor.

“Anaheim has become involved in a deadly game of domino toppling,” she said. “When the FBI cuts off the head of the corrupt snake Harry Sidhu, all of you will follow, with the exception of Jose Moreno.”

Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O'Neil leads the May 17, 2022 Anaheim City Council meeting with an empty seat left by Sidhu behind him.
(Gabriel San Roman)

Following the meeting, O’Neil, Councilman Stephen Faessel and Councilman Jose Diaz joined the chorus of voices asking the mayor, who is up for reelection in November, to step down in a formal letter sent Wednesday to Paul S. Meyer, Sidhu’s attorney.

“The deeply troubling issues that have come to our attention involving Mayor Sidhu since May 16, 2022, raise serious concerns and questions about his ability to continue as mayor of Anaheim,” the letter sent by O’Neil reads. “I and my City Council colleagues now must seek to support the continuity of municipal government, uphold the public trust and continue with the business of the city of Anaheim without the distraction and uncertainty created by the federal investigation involving Mayor Sidhu.”

Though not signatories to the letter, Councilwoman Gloria Sahagún Ma’ae and Moreno have asked for the same, bringing complete consensus on the issue from all remaining council members.

Sidhu’s attorney stated it was premature to comment on either the claims of the FBI’s affidavit or the letter calling for his client to step down from elected office.

But voluntary resignation isn’t the only way to resolve the situation.

“My hope for the betterment of Anaheim — and to move pass this unfortunate chapter — is for Sidhu to do the right thing and resign,” Councilman Valencia told TimesOC. “However, if that’s not what he does on his own, then thankfully, there’s language in our charter that would allow us to appoint a replacement if he misses two consecutive council meetings.”

Sidhu’s absence from this week’s council meeting was unexcused, according to the city.

If the mayor is similarly not in attendance for the May 24 City Council meeting, council members can declare a vacancy two days afterward in accordance with the time table laid about in the city’s charter.

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