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Tito Ortiz, Huntington Beach councilman who has refused to wear a mask, will keep mayor pro tem title

The Huntington Beach City Council in a Zoom meeting
The Huntington Beach City Council decided Monday night to table a motion that would take away the mayor pro tem title from Tito Ortiz.
(Screenshot by Matt Szabo)

Monday night’s Huntington Beach City Council meeting turned into an airing of dirty laundry against Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz.

As the clock moved past midnight, however, it became clear that Ortiz would keep that title.

In the end, the council agreed to table an agenda item that would have stripped Ortiz of his mayor pro tem position. The item under consideration claimed he had “failed to perform at a level expected for this position and demonstrated little commitment to serving in the role with honor and dignity.”

Ortiz, a lifelong Huntington Beach resident who was previously a mixed martial arts fighter and had no prior political experience, was elected in November with the most votes in city history. He has since drawn the ire of many on the City Council for his refusal to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in Ortiz being kicked out of a strategic planning meeting, then involved with a controversy with local chain TK Burgers.

But the agenda item brought by Mayor Kim Carr and Councilmen Mike Posey and Dan Kalmick never came to a vote, after the council heard more than two hours of public comment Monday and received more than 400 emails since news spread that Ortiz’s council title was in jeopardy.

“I want to thank each and every one of you,” Ortiz said after the item was tabled. “I apologize if I let anybody down. I think I just let myself down because I went on defensive mode in the very beginning, and I should never have done that. I will work harder and I’ll try not to miss meetings, as hard as I possibly can. I do have other jobs to pay my bills, but at the same time, I will do the best job that I know to do.”

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Many of his council colleagues had harsh words of rebuke for Ortiz. The exception was Councilman Erik Peterson, who suggested that the issue should have been dealt with behind closed doors.

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed agents arrested Mark Simon outside a Huntington Beach residence early Thursday morning. He faces federal charges stemming from a video agents believe he filmed at an entryway in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Mayor Carr said she was encouraged when she initially sat down to meet with Ortiz after he was elected, “but then something happened. It became less about the city and more about you ... It’s never been about your politics, it’s been about your actions.

“I worked very hard to get this position, and I take this very seriously. When I see people who don’t take it seriously, it’s offensive to me, and it’s offensive to our residents.”

In a prepared speech, Ortiz said he worked hard to get where he is today. He highlighted his work on May 30, 2020, when he and his friends attended a Black Lives Matter rally to protect the businesses in downtown Huntington Beach.

Ortiz in his speech claimed that other members of the City Council found it hard to accept his leadership role because he is Mexican American. He got emotional after he said he heard callers label him a white supremacist or a skinhead.

“I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much,” he said. “To push the agenda you guys are trying to push because I am not a liberal, I am not a Democrat? ... I’m a patriot, I’m an American that cares about this country and cares about this city.”

Ortiz said he was sick last week after returning from a weekend getaway to Las Vegas to celebrate his birthday on Jan. 24. He said Monday that he got tested and was told he did not have COVID-19.

Ortiz said he wore a mask over that Vegas weekend, adding that he believes that’s why he got sick. He exchanged words with Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize over the mask issue later in the discussion.

“There’s a lot of residents out in our community that want you to wear a mask,” Delgleize said. “You’ve got to realize that’s really important. For me, it’s really important as well, so we can be the leaders in our community.”

Posey, like Carr, said the agenda item to remove Ortiz from his position had nothing to do with politics. Posey said he has been a Republican since 1980 and voted for Ronald Reagan.

“This is not a partisan seat,” he said. “It’s about serving the community, serving the neighbors. If wearing a mask makes somebody [else] more comfortable, then put it on.

“You have to love this job and you have to be committed to this job, and I haven’t seen it,” Posey continued. “I have seen exactly the polar opposite ... You have an opportunity to be an influencer, and you’re squandering it by the nonsense that we see on social media.”

Szabo writes for Times Community News.

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