A controversial Santa Barbara official has been placed on administrative leave by the Santa Barbara Police Department in the wake of a Los Angeles magazine investigation that raises questions about the bureaucrat’s involvement in the city’s cannabis licensing procedures, as well as his rise to the upper echelons of city government and the manner in which he conducted himself during interactions with the public. Anthony Wagner was serving as the department’s public engagement officer and spokesman prior to being put on leave. The police department is engaging an “outside firm” to conduct its own investigation.
“On March 12, Los Angeles Magazine published an article that raised a number of issues concerning an employee of the police department, Mr. Anthony Wagner. Most of these allegations have been previously investigated, either within the police department or by the city attorney’s office,” reads a statement issued to media by SBPD Interim Chief Bernard Melekian.
“Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Magazine article makes new allegations concerning the nature of Mr. Wagner’s role in the process of the awarding cannabis licenses that support further investigation. To that end, the Department will be retaining an outside firm to conduct that investigation for the Police Department. I have placed Mr. Wagner on Administrative Leave pending the outcome of this inquiry. I should note that Mr. Wagner has been fully cooperative with this inquiry and welcomes the involvement of an outside reviewer.”
In a statement to media outlets, Wagner claimed the piece “misstates and misrepresents my background, significant events in my life, and past professional interactions and personal relationships,” but offered no specifics; Los Angeles stands by its reporting.
“I have served the people of Santa Barbara for four years with honor and integrity,” he added. “The investigation will yield as such.”
In addition to his work as a public information officer for the SBPD, Wagner has worked on communications projects for Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo, and played a key role in the city’s recreational cannabis dispensary licensing program. The article raises questions in particular about the latter facet of his work, especially his involvement in deciding which dispensaries would receive the licenses.
Of the eight licenses available to be awarded, one went to Golden State Greens, a company from San Diego.
“Our city attorney did review the procedures related to granting the recreational cannabis licenses and found them to be fair,” Mayor Murillo told local blog Newsmakers over the weekend. “However, we are looking at a range of options to improve the licensing process up to and including an independent review of allegations in the article. Serious allegations were raised in the article and we are taking them seriously.”
In recent years, cannabis cultivation and retail sale has become a hot-button issue in Santa Barbara, where a race for mayor is current underway. Candidate James Joyce, who is running to unseat Murillo, is calling for the Wagner matter to be referred to the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury, writing in a press release, “A transparent government is a good government and what happened here is just a clear example of bad government. Mr. Wagner is a clear cut example of how community relations can go awry and wind up being counter-productive: we need to do better.”