Appointed Irvine City Councilman Mike Carroll, who now claims the title “Vice Mayor,” is under investigation for allegedly misappropriating City of Irvine taxpayer funds for his own personal and political benefit.
Carroll finds himself at the center of a growing City Hall scandal involving the unauthorized expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars on mass mailings to Irvine residents, promoting the appointed Councilman and a series of town hall meetings. The City Council never authorized the mass mailings.
State Government Code Section 8314 makes it unlawful for any local official to use public resources for “a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.” A civil penalty could require payment of up to three times the value of the misappropriated public resources.
Penal Code Section 424 makes misappropriation of public funds a felony punishable by up to four years in State prison and includes disqualification from holding any public office.
In an August 30th official letter of complaint, Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox addressed her concerns about Carroll’s conduct to the City Manager, Irvine City Attorney, the Orange County District Attorney, and to State enforcement agencies.
The City, pressed by Fox, has released certain requested information about the Carroll mass mailings. What has so far been made public is revealing. In a one-page summary, Deputy City Manager Michelle Grettenberg reported that Carroll, in little more than a year, has sent out a total of 80,000 mailers. Nearly half of them were sent out in July and August at the same time Carroll was preparing to file his papers to run for City Council in the Nov. 3rd election, hoping to hold onto his seat.
The total cost to Irvine taxpayers for all of the Carroll mailers was $72,000. The postage tab alone was $45,000. The balance of the cost was for duplicating, mailroom charges, and envelope charges. According to Grettenberg’s memo, overall postage costs for the rest of the Councilmembers in the past year have amounted to only $220, in sharp contrast to Carroll’s unauthorized mass mailings.
A former City Hall official familiar with the City mailroom operations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Somehow Carroll managed to turn the City Hall mailroom into a private print shop and mailing house for the unauthorized benefit of just one City Councilmember — himself.”
According to Grettenberg’s memo, “Councilmember Carroll’s CEA [Council Executive Assistant] provided a letter and recipient list to the mailroom for distribution” for the earlier mass mailings. For the larger, more recent mass mailings, “Councilmember Carroll provided letters and mailing lists to the mailroom for distribution.”
Grettenberg’s memo doesn’t disclose how Carroll or his CEA gained access to the mailroom and apparently ordered the mailings in violation of City law. Irvine’s Municipal Code (Section 1-3-109) provides: “The City Council and its members shall deal with the administrative services of the City only through the City Manager … and neither the City Council nor any member thereof shall give orders or instructions to any subordinates of the City Manager….”
At this stage of the investigation, many questions remain unanswered:
- Was the Irvine City Manager or upper management staff aware of the mailings? What did they know and when did they know it? Did the City Manager facilitate the mailings without City Council authority?
- Were mailroom employees bullied, coerced or deceived into preparing the Carroll mass mailings? Much of the mailroom staff includes developmentally disabled men and women who have worked for the City for years.
- What mass mailing lists were provided to the mailroom? Were they from City sources intended to be kept private in accordance with City law? Or, were the voter lists intended for maximum political benefit for Carroll?
- Did Carroll convert these lists or responses to his town hall mailing invitations for his own use, harvesting names and email addresses for political use in his City Council campaign?
In its preliminary investigation, Irvine Community News & Views has confirmed that mailings were sent out in envelopes with first-class postage. Why? Authorized City mailings are customarily sent out at sharply reduced postal rates available to cities and other nonprofit organizations.
Of course, Councilman Mike Carroll could provide answers to these questions. Some of them were raised in Councilmember Melissa Fox’s original letter of complaint. But so far, Carroll has remained silent other than writing a brief letter denouncing Fox’s complaint as a political attack in election season. Carroll did not respond to the substance of the Fox complaint.
And what action has the City Council taken to investigate? None! Although Mayor Shea initially expressed anger when she learned of Carroll’s misuse of taxpayer funds, she quickly backed off and is now silent. (Shea and Carroll are part of the Irvine Republican-endorsed slate of Council candidates.)
The next scheduled Council meeting will take place after voters have received their ballots. As one City Hall insider noted, “It is pretty clear that Mayor Shea is more focused on her own political campaign right now than she is on protecting Irvine taxpayer money.”