Mayor Betsy Price on Fort Worth’s Human Relation’s Commission
Mayor Betsy Price called for the resignation of Human Relations Commission member Mike Steele on Tuesday, hours after Steele’s demeaning and offensive Facebook posts drew attention.
Steele has been a member of the commission, which is tasked with addressing racial disparities in the city, since 2015. Price asked Steele to resign immediately Tuesday afternoon in an email and in a formal letter, she said.
For years Steele used his publicly visible Facebook page to share content attacking transgender people, Muslims and immigrants and seemingly called for civil war.
“Buy ammo,” Steele wrote above a Fox News story about Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In an emailed statement to the Star-Telegram, Steele said he did not plan to resign. He touted his military service in the Gulf War, saying he is a disabled combat veteran, and mentioned his time as a Watauga city councilman. He said his position on the commission was “a calling.”
“As a proud father of a LGBT son, I vehemently reject the defamatory comments posted about me on social and local media,” he said in the email. “Some may not agree with my message, but I followed the policies and procedures set forth by the City. I do not intend to resign. I have fought foreign enemies, and I will fight domestic social media mobs. “
Records show he moved to Fort Worth shortly before his appointment. It remained unclear how he was vetted for his post.
Price said she believed Steele did not deserve to represent the city and called his behavior on social media “disappointing.”
“This position with the Human Relations Commission demands that you respect and be equitable with all people,” Price said.
Though posts date back months, Price said she became aware of complaints Tuesday morning. Steele’s Facebook posts drew public scrutiny when Emily Farris, a Texas Christian University political science professor, began tweeting screenshots of them.
She said she was appalled to see Steele’s public profile, calling his posts “racist, sexist, transphobic, and anti-immigrant.”
“As an officer of the city serving on a commission dedicated to eliminating prejudice and discrimination, Mr. Steele’s posts are completely out of line with the mission of the Human Relations Commission,” Farris said. “The city wishes to promote the message of ‘y’all means all,’ yet a member of its commission leading on issues of inclusion is posting derogatory and discriminatory messages on his public social media.”
Price said the commission acts independently from the council and, as such, the boards rarely interact. She promised better vetting of commission members, including a social media policy.
The Human Relations Commission advises the city council and manages issues around racial, religious, or ethnic discrimination, making recommendations designed to eliminate discrimination and promote cooperation among groups. Members apply and are selected by the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, a council committee that includes council members Dennis Shingleton, Kelly Allen Gray, Gyna Bivens and Jungus Jordan. The seats are at large and not assigned by council district.
The commissioners are volunteers and do not receive compensation. As of Tuesday nine of 11 commission seats were filled.
The city council first approved Steele for the board on March 17, 2015, according to meeting minutes. His term ends in October.
If Steele does not resign, Price and the council can move unilaterally to remove him or wait for the commission to make a recommendation for his removal. The recommendation requires a super majority, two-thirds vote, of commission members.
The council is in recess until August, requiring a special council meeting if council members wanted to address the matter sooner.
Shingleton, the chairman of the committee, said he didn’t know Steele and wasn’t aware of the posts. Prior to Price’s call for Steele’s resignation, he said the council and city needed to investigate the posts.
“We need make a decision on this quickly, I can say that,” he said. “We don’t need that sort of negativity.”
Steele posts hundreds of times a month, sometimes dozens of times a day. Most posts are photos of animals and pro-Donald Trump links. But peppered through the benign posts advocating for pet adoption, Steele shares content that seemingly advocate for civil war, demean transgender people and make fun of Mexicans.
On Feb. 27, Steele shared an opinion column from the Federalist website titled “It’s Time For The United States To Divorce Before Things Get Dangerous,” advocating for splitting the country along party lines.
In other posts, he advises people to arm themselves ahead of some pending conflict.
In May he shared a photo of a firing pin with the text, “People who don’t know what these are should not instigate a new civil war with those who do.” That same month he shared a Fox News story regarding Pelosi by saying, “Civil War is coming folks...”
Above a video of Bernie Sanders and talk show host Stephen Colbert, Steele simply wrote, “Buy ammo” on Feb. 26. He made a similar comment days before when sharing a Fox News story about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. The story was in regard to a trip the Somali-American Democrat from Minnesota took to Honduras with Witness for Peace.
“This is what happens when assimilation is not part of the plan,” he wrote in part on Feb. 21. “We are being engulfed and infiltrated from the inside... It pains me as a patriot to see it. Buy ammo.”
Steele’s posts also targeted transgender people and Muslims.
On May 12, he shared a photo from American Deplorable featuring a row of fresh-cooked bacon and Trump laughing. The text reads, “Bacon Fact: People who eat bacon are less likely to blow themselves up.” Muslims often abstain from eating pork products.
A Facebook page for the commission frequently tagged Steele’s profile, sometimes within hours of him posting questionable content.
Human Relations Commission
It’s unclear how Steele was vetted for his position. Current commission members make recommendations to the council through the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, who select candidates the council will then approve.
Minutes from March 17, 2015, indicate Steele was approved along with two others who no longer serve on the commission. Former Council member Daniel Scarth made the motion to approve the group. He did not return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Price said she suspected council members reviewed a resume, but likely only glanced over social media accounts. The city does not have a formal social media policy, Price said. “More than likely, we need to take a hard look at that,” she said.
This is not the first time Steele’s social media posts have been criticized.
Members of United Fort Worth, a grassroots coalition, recall questioning Steele’s position on the Human Relations Commission in 2017.
At the time, the city was debating joining a lawsuit against SB4, known as the state’s “sanctuary cities” law. Members of United Fort Worth had been communicating with council and commission members, urging them to support the lawsuit. It was then they became of aware of “inappropriate” social media posts, said Daniel Garcia Rodriquez, a co-founder and organizer.
When members inquired about Steele, they were told he represented a conservative or pro-Trump view point on the commission. He called Steele’s placement on the commission “irresponsible” because the Human Relations Commission was intended to be an unbiased, apolitical group.
Rodriguez said Steele was “a prime example” of why a divide exists between the city and many residents, including those of immigrant and minority backgrounds.
“If you’re a person who sees this, what are you supposed to think?” he said of Steele’s posts. “They’re going to feel targeted and unwelcome.”
In 2014, when Steele was running for re-election for a city council position in Watauga, he listed himself in the Star-Telegram voters guide as a dealer consultant for a software company.
He wrote: “It was my tenacity that discovered poor practices, charter violations, and other offenses that were going on behind closed doors. I brought transparency back to council and city administration.”