Cunningham Loses OCTA Contracts and County Parks Post

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Anaheim blogger Matt Cunningham on Friday resigned from the county Parks Commission under pressure from county supervisors and also lost two Orange County Transportation Authority contracts totaling nearly $100,000, the latest repercussions from a post he wrote that mocked Latino mourning traditions.

“I was really offended,” said County Supervisor Todd Spitzer in an interview Friday after issuing a press release announcing Cunningham’s resignation. “I wanted Matt to do the right thing,” said Spitzer, who inherited Cunningham as his appointee to the countywide panel when he took office last year.

However, Spitzer – who said he spent the last few days analyzing the issue and quietly worked behind-the-scenes to end Cunningham’s tenure – made it clear that if the controversial blogger wouldn’t have resigned, “he would have been removed.”

County Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson – who pressed for an end to Cunningham’s contracts at OCTA – earlier in the week called on Cunningham to resign from the post saying he had become too controversial for a public appointment.

Nick Berardino, the general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, publicly pressed supervisors to remove Cunningham from his county post earlier this week. On Friday, he said the resignation was “the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, labor leader Julio Perez and the mother of a young man slain in a police shooting are calling for a candlelight vigil and protest Monday at City Hall in response to the post.

At the vigil they will demand that the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, which has a consulting contract with Cunningham and stands by him, terminate its business relationship with the blogger.

On Dec. 12, Cunningham — a longtime Orange County Republican insider whose Anaheim Blog is considered representative of the city’s political establishment — published a photo of a defaced teddy bear next to a Virgin of Guadalupe candle, clearly mimicking memorial shrines Latino families place at the locations where their sons and brothers have been shot by police.

The post sparked outrage among Latinos, most notably the mothers of young men killed in police shootings. Cunningham took the post down after learning that Voice of OC would be publishing an article and has since issued an apology.

The incident has added fuel to an already racially charged atmosphere in a city that has been bitterly divided since back-to-back police shootings killed two young Latino men and triggered a downtown riot of mostly Latino youth in July 2012.

Latino activists and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the city to change a city election system they say disenfranchises the Latino community. Settlement talks are ongoing.

Until Friday, Cunningham’s consulting firm, Pacific Strategies, had two contracts with the Transportation Authority. One expires in the coming weeks and will not be renewed. The other has been put “on hiatus,” according to authority spokesman Joel Zlotnik.

Zlotnik said both contracts were discontinued because of the controversy.

Nelson said he began investigating the contacts as incoming OCTA chairman and pressed for their termination once questions were raised about Cunningham’s post.

“This guy cannot be the face of outreach when half the community’s been offended, if not incensed by this guy,” Nelson said.

The contract that is to expire without renewal is for local government outreach services and pays Cunningham up to $50,000 annually. According to contract documents, tasks include monitoring public meeting agendas and cities’ transportation developments and developing a matrix of “stakeholders,” among other tasks.

The contract placed on hold, dated Sept. 25 and totaling $48,775, calls for Cunningham’s firm to identify county “thought leaders” and obtain feedback from them regarding “transportation priorities and opinions.”

Former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who today is the city’s most influential lobbyist, is a subconsultant under this contract. Pringle provides “strategic advice” and is to be paid $21,150, according to contract documents.

Cunningham resigned his post on the county’s Parks Commission Friday after a Voice of OC article quoted Nelson saying that Cunningham should step down.

A Facebook invitation written by Perez, executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation, places accountability for the post squarely on the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, which has a consulting contract with the blogger.

Perez wrote that he and others will call on the chamber to terminate its business relationship with Cunningham, and if that is refused, they will call on city leaders to end funding of the business group.

Theresa Smith said protesters plan to march from City Hall to the Chamber of Commerce headquarters on Center Street.

Perez wrote in the invitation:

These actions are beyond insensitive and offensive, not only to every mother who has lost a son, but to every Latino resident who is working to have our voices heard above the drum beat of special interests that have for so long controlled the City and diverted resources away from struggling neighborhoods.

To make matters worse, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce is a lobby group that receives taxpayer money — your money. And they’re using that money to defile Latino traditions and disgrace the memories of all the young people we’ve lost to violence.

In a brief interview at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, chamber President Todd Ament took pains to distance the organization from Cunningham’s Anaheim Blog, insisting that the chamber has “nothing to do with” the blog.

Ament’s remarks contradict the chamber’s previously stated association with the blog through a recent post on a chamber website that referred to it as “Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Blog.”

Ament said that it is true the chamber has a consulting contract with Cunningham but that it is for “special projects” that he refused to specify.

He has since changed his tone regarding the controversy, releasing a statement saying that, while Cunningham’s post was insensitive, the chamber would stick by its contract with the blogger.

Perez said he doesn’t believe the chamber president’s statements that the group doesn’t fund the blog. If the chamber pays Cunningham for communications work, it cannot be separated from his writings on a blog that consistently touts the chamber’s positions, Perez said.

“It’s naïve for them to say they don’t pay for the hate things that come out of his mouth,” said Perez.

Cunningham at first explained that the post was a benign critique of the organized left and said rebukes, such as from one offended Latino OC Weekly reporter, would come from a “PC idiot.” He later apologized for the post after the furor it caused became a national story.

The vigil is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Monday at the steps of City Hall.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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