Fort Worth

Anti-discrimination official removed by council one month after racist posts surface

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.

Mike Steele, a man who used Facebook to promote divisive and offensive content, will no longer sit on Fort Worth’s anti-discrimination commission.

City Council members on Tuesday voted unanimously to remove Steele from the Human Relations Commission, which he had been a member of since 2015. In July, members of the commission voted to recommend the council remove him after Facebook posts attacking transgender people, Muslims and immigrants and seemingly called for civil war surfaced.

The commission is designed to manage issues surrounding racial, religious or ethnic discrimination in the city and advise the council on possible changes to city policy.

Though Councilwoman Ann Zadeh made the motion, and Councilwoman Gyna Bivens seconded, none of the council members spoke on the item.

David Amaya told the council prior to the vote the city needed to have a stronger process for vetting people for city offices and make sure to ask clearly about potential biases.

“We’re building a reputation around racism,” he said.

Steele’s Facebook activity dated back years, but did not become public until early July when TCU professor Emily Farris posted screenshots of some of his posts on Twitter. She called them “racist, sexist, transphobic, and anti-immigrant.”

The next day, Mayor Betsy Price called for Steele to resign. Steele, a former Watauga city councilman, refused, touting his military service in a statement. He did not attend the July Human Relations Commission and was not seen at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

“Some may not agree with my message, but I followed the policies and procedures set forth by the City,” Steele said in an email in July. “I have fought foreign enemies, and I will fight domestic social media mobs. “

Steele posted often on Facebook, sometimes dozens of times a day. His posts blended pleas to rescue shelter animals with conservative politics and posts that poked fun of minority groups.

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.

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.

MikeSteeleBacon.JPG
Mike Steele, member of Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission, has been been accused of publicly posting racist and offensive content on his Facebook profile. The commission is tasked with combating discrimination in Fort Worth.

Steele’s profile was public until early July when it was either closed or deleted. Before that, the Human Relations Commission’s Facebook page often tagged Steele’s profile in posts about commission business.

The city’s guidelines for board and commission positions are relaxed, 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.

City staff have said they received one complaint about Steele’s posts in 2017, but others have said Steele’s behavior online was well known.

In July, assistant city manager Fernando Costa said the 2017 complaint was investigated and staff determined the post was political in nature and not a violation of city rules.

Rafael McDonnell, an east Fort Worth resident who now serves on the zoning commission, recalled raising issues with Steele’s posts as early as 2016, sharing screen shots with the late David Mack Henderson, the then president of Fairness Fort Worth. In one instance, Steele shared a post from Milo Yiannopoulos that described questions about gender identity on a job application as “cancer.”

Eva Bonilla, the commission’s chairwoman, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram she suspected Steele “was not open minded” based on things he said during meetings. She recalled receiving messages, including screen shots of Facebook posts, from members of United Fort Worth and from Fort Worth’s LGBTQ community in 2017 regarding Steele.

Bonilla said city staff told her Steele was meant to represent conservative, pro-Trump view points.

That answer struck her as odd, she said, because the Human Relations Commission was nonpartisan. Apart from Steele, whom she described as “sensitive about being a Republican and Trump,” she was unaware of other commissioners’ political views. Commissioners should be unbiased in their perspectives, she said.

Gerald Banks Sr., a regular at city council meetings, said Tuesday he had attended many Human Relations Commission meetings and thought Steele had tried to “derail the good work” of the commission.

Human Relations Commission members apply and are selected by the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, a council committee that currently includes council members Bivens, Dennis Shingleton, Kelly Allen Gray and Jungus Jordan. The seats are at large and not assigned by council district.

The commissioners are volunteers and do not receive compensation.

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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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