Supervisor Nelson: Cunningham Should Resign Parks Post

Supervisor Shawn Nelson at a county supervisors' meeting.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson at a county supervisors' meeting.

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Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson is calling on Matt Cunningham to resign his appointment on the county Parks Commission amid the furor over Cunningham’s mocking of Latino memorial rituals in a post on his Anaheim Blog.

In the Dec. 12 post, Cunningham placed a candle featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe next to a defaced teddy bear he found outside Anaheim City Hall in an attempt to mimic memorial shrines Latino families place at the locations where their sons and brothers have been shot by police.

The post — which came on the Roman Catholic day of remembrance for the Virgin of Guadalupe and the day after a mother publicly recognized the anniversary of her son’s death in an officer-involved shooting — outraged Latinos and made national headlines.

Cunningham took down the post earlier this week after learning that Voice of OC was planning to do an article. At first, he characterized the post as a benign critique of the political left and declined to discuss it with Voice of OC on the record.

However, he later apologized in an interview with the Orange County Register and in a subsequent Facebook post.

But that has not mollified Nelson, who described Cunningham as an “attack blogger” and is adamant that he should step down from the parks panel. That, Nelson said, would save Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who inherited Cunningham’s appointment from outgoing Supervisor Bill Campbell, from having to remove him.

The Republican consultant has become a lightning rod as a blogger on behalf of the Anaheim City Council majority and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce in their bid to delay the adoption of council election districts. City leaders are in the midst of settlement talks with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the city over its election system alleging that it violates the state Voting Rights Act by not providing Latinos with adequate representation.

Labor leaders, led by Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino, have already called on Spitzer to remove Cunningham from his post, saying the column on Anaheim Blog shows immense racial insensitivity.

Spitzer said the post, which went national on Huffington Post and other media news sites, also disturbed him.

However, he said, he was withholding judgment until receiving a written explanation from Cunningham and meeting with him. Spitzer said he would consider his options during the holidays and be ready to take action by the Board of Supervisors’ first meeting in early January, given that a formal removal would require a vote.

Yet Nelson said Cunningham shouldn’t put Spitzer in that position. While Nelson avoided addressing the racial implications of Cunningham’s column, he said that kind of aggressive blogging shouldn’t be associated with a public official who represents the Board of Supervisors.

“It would appear that it’s undisputed by even the gentleman himself that he’s exercised poor judgment. And that’s being nice about it,” Nelson said. “He lacks judgment and awareness of the consequences of what he does.”

For Nelson, that’s enough to decide whether Cunningham should sit on a county commission. “He appears to be a liability when he exercises his judgment. So what’s he on the Parks Commission to do? Exercise judgment.”

Nelson said he also would move, as incoming chairman of the Orange County Transportation Agency, to not renew two different public outreach contracts that agency holds with Cunningham, given the tenor of his blogging in the public realm.

“Why would a company or a large government agency hire somebody that has that kind of judgment,” Nelson said. “And I don’t know how even he could deny that at this point.”

In response to a Voice of OC story on the issue, Cunningham wrote an email to a reporter questioning whether Anaheim Latinos as a community really took issue with his posting.

“Since when did the opinions of two individuals come to represent ‘Anaheim Latinos,’ as your headline claims?” wrote Cunningham, referring to complaints of two mothers of men shot dead by police – Theresa Smith and Donna Acevedo – who complained at the City Council meeting.

“As there are approximately 170,000 Latinos in Anaheim, it is more than a stretch to claim two people represent their views. Yet, that is exactly what your headline tells readers,” Cunningham wrote reporter Adam Elmahrek on Dec. 17 to complain that the Voice of OC coverage of the issue was unfair.

Anaheim’s Chamber of Commerce, which has a communications consulting contract with Cunningham, has distanced itself from Cunningham’s blog but stand by its contract with him.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Theresa Smith’s last name. We regret the error.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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