Visit Newport fires employee over tweet

The public relations director of Newport Beach's tourism bureau was fired Monday in the wake of a kerfuffle surrounding a tweet he sent from the agency's Twitter account.

The tweet — which Visit Newport Beach Inc.'s chief executive Gary Sherwin confirmed in a statement was written by Jeff Soto — encouraged travelers to "avoid the chaos" at Los Angeles International Airport and "make it a beach vacation" in Newport.

The message was sent Friday, hours after a shooter opened fire at the airport, killing one Transportation Security Administration agent and wounding several others.

A short time after it was posted, the tweet was deleted from the @NewportBeach Twitter feed. A subsequent tweet apologized for the message and paid "respects to the victim's family."

"Was focused on closure and hearing reports of ppl stuck," it said.

The shooting ground operations at the airport, one of the busiest in the world, to a near halt, causing massive delays for travelers.

In the statement, Sherwin said that Visit Newport Beach was "appalled and dismayed by the lack of empathy and judgment conveyed" in the tweet, which he said was "posted without proper knowledge of the situation."

"Our hearts go out to the victims of Friday's airport shooting ... " Sherwin said in the statement. "Visit Newport Beach Inc. is built on a platform of core values, including respect and integrity. This careless and regrettable tweet flies in the face of those values..."

Soto worked at Visit Newport Beach, a nonprofit marketing organization whose contract with the city is funded primarily by hotel bed taxes and membership dues, for a little more than six months, officials said.

Normally, the Twitter account is handled by the agency's social media director, said Chief Marketing Officer Vicki Higgins.

But as public relations director, she said, Soto would occasionally post from Visit Newport Beach's accounts, responding to inquiries or news events.

She said Kitchen Table Marketing + PR, a firm that has helped the agency promote specific events in the past, has "jumped in to assist with this situation," and will be helping to fulfill some of Soto's duties.

Soto could not immediately be reached for comment.

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