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Ethical issue debated in St. C.

Ohio Ethics Commission is consulted after residents write letter seeking response to post on social media

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A city official’s social media post critical of the Black Lives Matter movement has been referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission. Meanwhile, authorities are looking into reported threats against city officials.

St. Clairsville Law Director Elizabeth Glick made the announcement Monday after a letter signed by 87 city residents was emailed to Mayor Kathryn Thalman and to City Council members demanding the mayor address a social media post made by Councilman Perry Basile.

St. Clairsville’s council meetings have been a site of division, accusations and insults among council members and from the public dating back to the prior mayoral administration, through a contentious election and into 2020. The latest dispute began when a resident sent a letter to council taking exception to a social media post by Basile that was critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

During a previous meeting, Basile said he had attempted to share a statistical graph on his personal page without knowledge of the critical comment associated with it. Basile later apologized and said he supported any black human rights organization.

The recent letter referred to action taken by the city of Martins Ferry last week, terminating a police officer after he made a social media post that was critical of the movement.

During a prior meeting, Councilwoman Linda Jordan, who is African American, made a motion to remove Basile from his position. She was informed by Law Director Elizabeth Glick council had no such authority.

The letter also mentioned a social media post by Jim Behl, who is contracted by Thalman to do electronics and communications work. Behl was criticized during a previous meeting for a social media post touching on perception that the public is being manipulated, as well as self-improvement and personal improvement. Jordan said some residents found the post condescending to African Americans.

Council President Jim Velas addressed the recent letter during Monday’s teleconference meeting. He referred the matter to Glick.

“Both situations involve postings on private Facebook accounts not connected or managed by the City of St. Clairsville,” Glick said, adding the mayor does not have authority to sanctions elected public officials. “Since some of the situations referred to in the letter raise Constitutional and other legal issues which could lead to possible litigation involving the city, I’m in the process of drafting a letter to the Ohio Ethic Commission requesting an official position from them regarding the matters raised in the letters and the ethics of the mayor responding to issues over which she does not have any jurisdiction or authority under the charter, Ohio Revised Code, and possibly the Ohio and the US Constitution.”

Glick said she would make her report to council as soon as she receives an opinion from the commission.

“It’s also been brought to my attention today that threats have been received by the mayor, Councilman Basile and his family, and Mr. Behl,” Glick said. “All these threats will be reported to the proper legal authorities for any possible actions that they see fit.”

“We are into some sensitive information,” Velas said. “Until we get some response, one way or another, from the Ohio Ethics Commission, council will not be able to address this.”

Thalman spoke about the continuing conflicts.

“I want to express my disappointment at the political posturing done by some members of council who feel they have more of an agenda to block and obstruct any efforts on my part to improve the city, than to work as a group and move forward in a productive manner,” she said. “If there are questions and disagreements about the changes and ideas being made, they should be worked out together in a professional manner.”

Thalman added she was recently approached by constituents who shared these opinions expressed frustration.

“I’ve had several phone calls. People are irritated at the wasting of time and posturing,” Thalman said. “It’s completely unacceptable, and now I am receiving threats. … This political posturing and bloviating is irresponsible and dangerous. Certain people see this as permission and invitation to take discord to the next level. When it becomes no longer safe to be a public official, it sets a very bad precedent. No one will ever accept the challenge of leading our city if they feel it’s endangering themselves and their families.”

Basile, who was present at the meeting, did not address the issue. Afterward, Basile said he could not comment further on the nature of the threats, since they were under investigation. He added he has greatly reduced his activity on social media.

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