Forsyth city attorney Bobby Melton announced at a Sept. 7 council meeting that he was clearing councilman Julius Stroud of an anonymous ethics complaint filed against Stroud for his Facebook post claiming protestors against a mask mandate in Monroe County schools would have been treated differently if they were black.
Melton said it is his job to evaluate ethic complaints against city officials.
“There is no ethics violation in my opinion,” said Melton.
The complainant, who said they were remaining anonymous because of fear of retaliation, wrote that Stroud had posted that if the people protesting the school system’s mask mandate in August had been predominantly black instead of white, there would have been shots fired and arrests. The complainant said the comments were absurd and incited a racial divide that has no place in the community.
It said there were multiple ethnicities present at the protest and that Stroud shouldn’t use his position as a council member as a platform to make such comments. The complainant said the absurdity was illustrated by the fact that a protest in Forsyth on July 20, 2020 (sic) with predominantly black protestors was peaceful and didn’t result in any shots fired or arrests.
Melton said his opinion is that Stroud’s posts on Facebook are protected under the First Amendment as freedom of speech, and that there is nothing in the city’s code of ethics that speaks to his Facebook posts. Melton said the city code talks about bribery but doesn’t limit freedom of speech. Melton said that because he doesn’t know the complainant’s identity he doesn’t know whether the person is a citizen of Forsyth or a city employee or official.
“The anonymous complaint doesn’t fall under any city codes, there was no conflict of interest and he wasn’t acting in any official capacity,” said Melton.
Ironically Stroud asked Monroe County Commissioners to investigate the social media posts of Commissioner John Ambrose in March 2021 after he posted personal comments about Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Melton referenced an article in the Reporter about Stroud’s posts and said the article talked about freedom of speech, but he didn’t explain any connection between the Reporter article and the complaint he was presenting to council except that they both dealt with Stroud’s Facebook posts.
“It would be a boring world if politicians can’t express opinions,” said Mayor Eric Wilson.
“I think the person was a coward for not coming forward,” said council member Chris Hewett.
“This country is headed down a path where leaders are afraid to lead,” said council member Greg Goolsby.
“I recall Judge Wilbur Owens said the most important part of the U.S. Constitution is the First Amendment,” said Melton.
“Julius is one of those who fought for that right for us,” said city manager Janice Hall.
“I want to go on record that I know what he meant by what he said and I know where it came from,” said council member John Howard. “If you haven’t stood in our shoes there’s some things you won’t understand if you’re not an African American.”
“I was born in 1947,” said council member Melvin Lawrence. “We know how to deal with things like that. You’ve got to think about it, pray about it.”
After some discussion of whether any action from council was needed on the ethics complaint, council passed a motion to dismiss the complaint.
“I have to admit this whole thing has been embarrassing,” said Stroud. “I stood up for what I believe in.”
Stroud’s comments on Facebook were posted on Aug. 11 after the school board passed a mask mandate on Aug. 9 and then changed its decision and reverted to strongly encouraging that teachers and students wear masks instead of mandating them. Stroud was a teacher at Monroe County Achievement Center and an athletic coach but resigned at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
At the Aug. 9 meeting several people, including Stroud, spoke in favor of a mask mandate. However, at the Aug. 10 meeting many parents and students came to tell Board of Education members they were against a mask mandate.
“This body has done a good job, and I’m very proud to be associated with it,” said Wilson. “Not one person around this table has any interest other than helping the people of Forsyth.”
“I don’t think we’re doing a lot to work toward racial harmony or equality,” said Stroud.
After getting some blowback on Facebook, Stroud had posted: “I agree with Michelle Obama, when they go low we go high. But please understand, I will go low to protect my wife, family and children.”
Stroud won another four years on city council last month after he qualified without opposition.