Editorials

Time to go: Fort Worth can’t have a city commission member who calls for civil war

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.

Imagine if the city park board had a member who ranted about the evils of trees.

Or if the animal shelter advisory committee had a member who said online that the good dog lovers of the world should “buy ammo” because they were being “engulfed and infiltrated” by cats.

Silly, right? But those scenarios make about as much sense as a member of Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission, a group meant to encourage racial harmony and address inequities, posting that political divides are leading to a civil war.

That’s exactly what Mike Steele did, repeatedly fomenting the very divides he is supposed to help combat in his public position as a city board member.

Steele says he won’t quit the commission, even with Mayor Betsy Price and other city leaders strongly encouraging him to do so. Unless he has a change of heart, the commission and the City Council should move quickly to get him off the panel.

Racially insensitive memes

Social media posts by Steele, who has served on the commission for more than four years, drew attention this week, though some activists contend they raised questions two years ago. He clearly liked to spread racially insensitive jokes and memes, including one that mocked Muslims as potential suicide bombers.

And in his more serious political posts, he suggests that right and left are headed for violence.

Our politics is fractured enough; we don’t need public officials, even those in citizen advisory roles, raising the temperature. As a former Watauga City Council member, he should know better.

The appointment process that Fort Worth officials described Tuesday needs improvement. Price said that council members probably reviewed Steele’s resume, but staff should be tasked with a deeper background dive.

It’s also an opportunity to consider what policies and practices appointees must follow, beyond the current ethics policy. Price said Tuesday that the city needs to develop a social media policy for such positions. That would be a good start.

But the city can’t make perfect policy to protect itself against every kind of cluelessness.

https://twitter.com/lukeranker/status/1146208360955559936

Steele, in a statement to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter, played the role of defiant victim. He invoked his status as a disabled combat veteran and “proud father of a LGBT son.” He pledged to fight “domestic social media mobs.”

We respect his service, but we hope he’ll reflect more on his words and why so many people are disappointed in a public figure for posting them.

His unwillingness to do so will drag out the embarrassment for Fort Worth. The City Council can remove Steele, with or without the commission’s recommendation, but it will take time to get meetings scheduled and corral the necessary votes.

It’s not about free speech

This is not about political correctness. Reasonable people can disagree over whether many of Steele’s posts were more tasteless jokes than racial animosity.

It’s certainly not about free speech. Steele can say whatever he likes, but he has no inherent right to a city platform.

And it’s not about persecuting conservative views. They are poorly represented by attitudes such as Steele’s.

A commission charged with dealing with divisive issues needs a broad range of opinions and strong voices from all parts of the spectrum. But Steele forfeited the right to be one of those voices. He’s got to go.

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