Fort Bragg city clerk apologizes for social media post

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Fort Bragg City Clerk June Lemos apologized Friday for comments she posted on a satirical website amid a contentious debate over the small Mendocino coast town’s voting system.

The civic debate turned edgy when critics faulted Lemos for contributing last week to a social media post deemed racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic, noting her use of an image that showed a woman astride a blue ox bearing a yellow five-pointed star.

“I am deeply sorry that comments I posted on social media were taken as offensive, as it is never my intention to hurt anyone,” Lemos said in an email.

“What I thought was levity on a satire page was very bad judgment on my part, and I did not think it through first. I am devastated by all this.”

Mayor Lindy Peters said Lemos made a mistake but meant no offense.

“She probably shouldn’t have posted anything,” he said in an interview.

“I think she got caught up in it, not realizing the ramifications. She feels awful.”

Their comments about Lemos followed an apology by City Manager Tabatha Miller on the city website and a council decision to hire a demographer to assess the claim, filed by a local attorney, that Fort Bragg’s at-large election of five council members violates California voting law.

Peters, who is in his fourth term as mayor, said he has known Lemos for years and considers her “a wonderful person” who enjoys theater, art and comedy.

Lemos admitted to him she had made the post, the mayor said, noting that part of her job involves monitoring social media in an effort to correct inaccurate comments about the city.

At Wednesday night’s council meeting, Community Development Director Marie Jones staunchly defended Lemos.

“June is not a racist, she is not a Nazi. I am a lesbian and she is one of my best friends,” Jones said, calling her online post a “very innocent comment.”

Lemos’ post, which has been removed from the Facebook page of “The Mendocino Bacon,” a satirical social media site, said she had “already ordered my supply of colored stars.”

It appeared as a comment on an anonymous posting that suggested Fort Bragg’s Paul Bunyan Days be renamed “Paulina Bunyan & His Ox ‘Blew’ Days” and that parade spectators be assigned to separate areas based on their ethnicity or nationality and given “color-coded paper ‘Stars’ to be pinned to their clothing.”

Jacob Patterson, an openly gay Fort Bragg attorney who challenged the legality of the city voting system, said the posts were personally offensive, with references to the German Nazi mandate that Jews wear yellow six-pointed stars.

Kenny Jowers, an openly gay activist who is co-chairman of the Mendocino County Democratic Central Committee, called the posts “a pretty blatant attack on the gay community.”

Jones and Peters said Lemos’ comment about stars referred to a story by Dr. Seuss, not the Holocaust. In the Dr. Seuss story “The Sneetches,” the five-pointed stars are green.

Miller said in an email Friday she is working on a training session on “discrimination and harassment” for all city employees to be held within the next three weeks. City policy on use of social media will be included in the training.

The city manager declined to comment on whether Lemos had been disciplined.

Peters said it was “a personnel issue; it’s been dealt with, that’s all I can say.”

Miller told the council Wednesday night the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 has made it easier to challenge the legality of at-large voting systems because “you do not have to prove intent by elected officials” to suppress minority voting rights.

Eighty-eight California cities have switched to district elections and 18 more are in the process of converting from at-large voting, she said.

Fort Bragg has an estimated voting-age population of 4,335, including just 356 — or 8 percent — voting-age Hispanics, Miller said.

Of the city’s overall 7,260 residents, 34 percent are Hispanic.

Miller recommended the city hire a demographer to determine whether Fort Bragg’s at-large voting meets legal standards.

Patterson’s letter, as representative of a group called Coast Committee for Responsive Representation, asserted the city’s electoral history “strongly suggests that Latino voting strength has not only been diminished by at-large elections, it has practically been eliminated.”

No California jurisdiction with at-large voting has successfully defended it in court, and some cities have spent millions of dollars in a losing effort, Miller said.

“I think we’re probably headed toward districts,” Councilman Michael Cimolino said at one point, later commenting, “I don’t like this thing at all.”

“I haven’t heard tonight where the problem is,” Councilman Bernie Norvell said. “It makes me mad.”

“I’m angry, too,” Peters said.

Cesar Yanez, a Fort Bragg native, told the council he has been asked to run for office, noting the opportunity is there.

“We could (seek office), we just choose not to,” he said.

Yanez said he supports at-large elections.

The council unanimously approved Miller’s recommendation to spend $8,000 on an analysis of Fort Bragg’s demographics and the last four council elections.

Douglas Johnson, president of National Demographics Corp., the firm that will conduct the study, said in his proposal about 90 percent of jurisdictions find it sufficient to determine whether or not to move to district elections.

The council has until May 29 to adopt a resolution outlining the city’s intention to convert to district elections, Miller said.

If it does so — and subsequently makes the change official — Patterson’s group would be limited to $30,000 in legal fees.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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