Fort Worth

This group wants to oust another member of Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission

Mayor Betsy Price on Fort Worth’s Human Relation’s Commission

Mayor Betsy Price speaks about her relationship with the Human Relations Commission, an anti-racism group, after a member used an open Facebook page to share content criticized as racist and offensive.
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Mayor Betsy Price speaks about her relationship with the Human Relations Commission, an anti-racism group, after a member used an open Facebook page to share content criticized as racist and offensive.

Controversy over members of the city’s Human Relations Commission continues, this time with calls for removal directed at the anti-discrimination board’s chairwoman.

Stand for Fort Worth, a group that describes itself as nonpartisan but pushes an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ agenda, has called for Eva Bonilla to step down, citing Facebook posts supporting Planned Parenthood and criticizing the Fort Worth City Council for not joining a lawsuit against SB4.

Attention came to the Human Relations Commission, tasked with combating discrimination and prejudice, last week when commissioner Mike Steele was accused of using his Facebook to promote offensive and demeaning content. At the time his profile was open to the public and posts attacked transgender people, Muslims and immigrants and seemingly called for civil war. The profile has since been closed.

Mayor Betsy Price called for Steele to step down shortly after his posts were made public.

On its website, Stand for Fort Worth claims Bonilla “insulted” City Council members and posted about partisan topics. They point to two posts.

In one from May, Bonilla shared a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood and in another from 2017 she said council members who voted against the lawsuit against the state’s sanctuary city law had “failed their residents.”

Zeb Pent, the spokesman for Stand for Fort Worth, said Bonilla had demonstrated clear bias. He called Steele’s posts “a little too edgy” but defended his use of social media as free speech.

“She has had clear history of partisan behavior,” he said. “Our question is how can she serve on a board that’s supposed to uphold human rights when she supports an organization that discriminates against the unborn.”

Bonilla said she donated about $10 to Planned Parenthood when a friend ran a fundraiser through Facebook. The donation, she said, was not an indication that she supported abortion but rather that she was interested in women’s health.

The donation and her support of the SB4 lawsuit have not affected her role on the Human Relations Commission, she said, and she guessed that Stand for Fort Worth was retaliating for calls on Steele to resign.

“I know what it’s like to be a woman and Hispanic,” she said. “I try to speak for people who don’t have a voice and have been marginalized.”

The city has not received a complaint regarding Bonilla’s Facebook, but Steele on June 4 emailed the the commission’s staff coordinator as well as offices of Price and Councilman Dennis Shingleton to complain about what he called “politically charged” comments from Bonilla during a commission meeting, a city spokeswoman said.

The city’s guidelines for board and commission positions are limited, lacking even a social media policy. Beyond conflict of interest, the expectation is that “those who serve in these positions conduct themselves in a civil manner,” the city said in a statement.

As of 1 p.m. Wednesday morning on petition on the Stand for Fort Worth site had gained 85 signatures toward a goal of 100.

Meanwhile a change.org petition calling for the city council to remove Steele has received more than 500 signatures.

A member of the Human Relations Commission can be removed by a vote of the City Council and mayor. Or the commission, with a super majority vote can recommend the council oust a member. Bonilla called a special meeting for Monday to consider recommending Steel’s removal.

Though people have voiced concern over Steele’s posts, the city received one formal complaint about Steele’s Facebook in 2017, assistant city manager Fernando Costa said last week. An investigation determined the post in question was political in nature but did not violate any rules.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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