With outcries all around, Huntington Beach councilwoman removes board appointee who attended a rally
HUNTINGTON BEACH — Democrats are a minority in Huntington Beach — and no more so than on the City Council, with Republicans dominating five to two. That spread was even greater before the 2018 election, when newcomer Kim Carr somewhat surprisingly received more votes than the incumbent.
But, pitting Democrat against Democrat, some of Carr’s supporters now question her decision last week to yank Shayna Lathus from the Citizens Participation Advisory Board.
At the city council meeting Monday, May 6, more than a dozen speakers lambasted Carr for dropping her board appointee after Lathus attended a demonstration.
Some of those speakers acknowledged the discomfort of choosing between the two women. “You are both great leaders,” Karen Hinks said. Former mayor Debbie Cook warned that the blow-up could “delegitimize” Carr.
Lathus, a longtime middle school science teacher in Santa Ana, joined a counterprotest of the “March to End Sanctuary State” Saturday, April 27. A handful of black-garbed Antifa participants, their faces obscured by masks, also showed up. Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is an extremist group that disrupts demonstrations with such tactics as shouting vulgarities and deploying pepper spray.
Soon after the rally, photos of Lathus in the vicinity of Antifa members began circulating online. Resident Craig Frampton initiated a petition on Change.org demanding her removal for standing “alongside the masked domestic terrorists.”
Within 48 hours, some 1,000 people — many from outside Huntington Beach — had signed the petition.
In an interview, Frampton noted that Huntington Beach is battling California’s “sanctuary” laws, which limit interactions between police and federal immigration agents.
“It’s a huge conflict of interest for her to be with an extreme group protesting something our city is suing the state over,” he said.
The next afternoon, as the controversy erupted on social media, Lathus attended the Taste of Huntington Beach event with her husband, she said. There, she ran into Frampton and Mike Daly, founder of a right-leaning community Facebook page.
“They asked if I was with the Antifa on Saturday,” Lathus said. “I had not interacted at all with those people or given them much thought. That was the first I realized something was up.”
The next day, Lathus learned about the petition when Carr texted her a screenshot of it. The two later spoke by phone.
“Kim asked if I had thrown rocks at a police officer’s horse and I said, uh, no,” Lathus recalled. “Then we both laughed at the accusation. It was so outrageous.”
Per Carr’s request, Lathus drafted a Facebook post condemning violence and supporting law enforcement.
Carr later complained that Lathus did not specifically call out Antifa in the statement. On Tuesday, she asked Lathus to turn in her resignation. After finishing up school on Wednesday, Lathus said, she saw on her phone that Carr already had announced her removal.
“Those that do not immediately denounce hateful, violent groups do not share my values and will not be a part of my team,” Carr wrote in a letter to the city council and staff.
Lathus said the letter “stunned” her. “Unfortunately, we have a rather small number of very vocal people who keep pushing this negative narrative about community members,” she said. “It appears that Kim felt the pressure.”
However, Carr insisted in an interview, “The petition had nothing to do with my decision-making process.”
“I have great admiration for Shayna and I understand her activism,” Carr said. “I’m really sorry this escalated. I know there are people with a different agenda trying to divide us and make this into something bigger than it is.
“But Shayna used bad judgment on this particular issue,” Carr added. “We have a problem with radical groups coming into our community and wanting to cause havoc. She should have left immediately.”
Lathus questioned why proximity to a dubious group should lead to such consequences.
“I understand it was bad optics,” she conceded. “But what if you just happened to be walking by the protest and someone took a picture of you with Antifa in the background? Does that make you guilty of something?”
Brendan Hamme, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, agreed that the outcry against Lathus amounted to “guilt by association.”
“She did not give up her First Amendment rights when she agreed to sit on the board,” Hamme said. “Her removal undoubtedly could chill the speech of other individuals doing work for the city.”
Several speakers Monday evening pointed out that Gracey Van Der Mark was not forced off the city’s Finance Commission after videos surfaced of her among protesters at a workshop for “racial justice.” In a post about the event, Van Der Mark described the meeting’s participants as “colored people (who) were there doing what the elderly Jewish people instructed them to do.”
Although she disagreed with Councilman Patrick Brenden’s decision last year to leave Van Der Mark as his appointee on the commission, Gina Clayton-Tarvin said, “he at least investigated for a number of weeks, not two days.”
Some speakers derided petitioner Frampton. Bobbi Ashurst brought an image of him posing in front of a Confederate flag on social media.
Whatever was behind her dismissal, Lathus said, she will miss her volunteer position with the city. “I loved it,” she said. “If Kim had taken the time to see I didn’t do anything wrong, we could have cleared this up and I’d be on the board doing good things for the city.”
Still, Lathus concluded, “As a Democrat, I don’t want to see Kim lose support. She impresses everyone with her knowledge and expertise, and she needs to remain an effective voice on the council.”